Arc of Justice

Arc of Justice

by

Kevin Boyle

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Houses Symbol Icon

In Arc of Justice, houses (especially in white neighborhoods) represent participation in the American Dream. They also become the focal point of the contest between the forces of integration and segregation in American society. When Dr. Ossian Sweet, a Black man, buys a house in an all-white Detroit neighborhood, he means this act to broadcast his wealth and status. In this way, the house proves to the world that he has achieved the American Dream, as he raised himself out of an impoverished rural childhood to become a well-educated, widely-traveled, professionally successful, and wealthy doctor.

But home ownership also makes a statement about participation in American society more broadly. As the Great Migration brings increasing numbers of Black Southerners into northern cities, racism and segregation also increase. Restrictive housing covenants and banking policies serve to maintain the line between white and Black neighborhoods and reinforce a sense of superiority among nativist white residents. The white men and women who own homes in the neighborhood around Garland Avenue, for instance, are proud and possessive of their slice of the American Dream, and they don’t want to share it with people they consider to be less worthy than themselves. When they move into houses in all-white neighborhoods, Black people like Ossian and Gladys Sweet, Dr. Alexander Turner, John Fletcher, Fleta Mathies, Vollington Bristol, and their families are saying that they have a right to full participation in American society. But, aided and abetted by the Ku Klux Klan, their white neighbors reply that white citizens have more rights when they band together to drive out these Black families by force and violence.

Houses Quotes in Arc of Justice

The Arc of Justice quotes below all refer to the symbol of Houses. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Prejudice, Segregation, and Society Theme Icon
).
Chapter 1 Quotes

No matter how many advantages families along Garland Avenue enjoyed, though, it was always a struggle to hold on. Housing prices had spiraled upward so fearfully the only way a lot of folks could buy a flat or a house was to take on a crippling burden of debt. The massive weight of double mortgages or usurious land contracts threatened to crack family budgets. Men feared the unexpected assault on incomes that at their best barely covered monthly payments […] And now they faced this terrible turn of events: Negroes were moving onto the street, breaking into white man’s territory. News of their arrival meant so many things. A man felt his pride knotted and twisted. Parents feared for the safety of their daughters […] And everyone knew that when the color line was breached, housing values would collapse, spinning downward until Garland Avenue was swallowed into the ghetto and everything was lost.

Related Characters: Ossian Sweet, Gladys Sweet
Related Symbols: Houses
Page Number: 16-17
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

A life in medicine would give Ossian the status he dreamed of—and the money he craved: a doctor could easily take home fifteen hundred dollars a year, an almost unimaginable amount to a young man whose father probably earned a fifth of that figure. If Ossian should rise in the profession, as he intended to do, his income could go even higher […] But it wasn’t the money alone that mattered. A high income would give him the outward signs of success: the dapper clothes he had never had a chance to wear, the fashionable home so different from the farmhouse his father had built. But to be called doctor—Doctor Ossian H. Sweet—that would be the greatest mark of respect he could imagine.

Related Characters: Ossian Sweet
Related Symbols: Houses
Page Number: 85-86
Explanation and Analysis:

Violence finally ended on the fourth day […President] Wilson ordered two thousand federal troops into the capital to secure the streets. And a furious rainstorm drove both whites and blacks indoors. Negro spokesmen insisted, however, that neither federal action nor a fortuitous turn in the weather had quelled the attack. James Weldon Johnson […] arrived in the city just as the soldiers were taking up positions. “The Negroes themselves saved Washington by their determination not to run, but to fight,” he concluded after two days of consultation and investigation, “fight in defense of their lives and their homes. If the white mob had gone on unchecked—and it was only the determined effort of black men that checked it—Washington should have been another and worse East St. Louis.”

Related Characters: James Weldon Johnson (speaker), Ossian Sweet
Related Symbols: Houses
Page Number: 96-97
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes

But it was mounting discrimination in the real estate market that increasingly sealed Negroes into Black Bottom. Since the early 1910s, white real estate agents and landlords in Chicago and New York had refused to so much as show Negroes homes in white neighborhoods, saying that the presence of colored people depressed property values. In the course of the Great War, these practices spread to Detroit. Not every real estate agent or landlord signed on: if colored folks were willing to pay a premium for a piece of property in a white part of town, some real estate men were happy to oblige them. But to defy the new racial conventions took more courage—or more avarice—than many real estate agents and landlords had. So discriminatory practices passed from office to office, property to property, and racial hatred gradually turned into common business practice, the way things were done.

Related Characters: Ossian Sweet
Related Symbols: Houses
Page Number: 108
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes

Then, a woman who lived across the street from Bristol’s house mounted her porch and launched into a harangue. “If you call yourselves men and are afraid to get those niggers out,” she screamed, “we women will move them, you cowards!” That was it. Almost instantaneously the mob began stoning the house. Someone approached the police to ask if they would step aside for five minutes; it wouldn’t take any longer to drive the coloreds away. When the inspector refused to move his men, the mob stoned them too.

Related Symbols: Houses
Page Number: 154
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

All summer long, the Invisible Empire had been trying to “induce Negroes to go into districts populated entirely by persons who would … resent such an invasion,” hoping that […] Detroit would be consumed by racial violence so severe the city government would topple […] Of course, Negroes had a legal right to live wherever they wished. But, insisted Smith, “it does not always do for any man to demand to its fullest the right which the law gives him. Sometimes by doing so he works irremediable harm to himself and his fellows.” In fact, segregation was a social good, and those who dared to challenge it an enemy to their people and their city […] “I shall go further. I believe that any colored person who endangers life and property, simply to gratify his personal pride, is an enemy of his race as well as an incitant of riot and murder.”

Related Characters: John Smith (speaker)
Related Symbols: Houses
Page Number: 195-196
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7 Quotes

With its fight against restrictive covenants, though, the NAACP believed it had a way to show its erstwhile allies that in the era of the KKK they were not assured of being on the safe side of the color line. Already the NAACP had reports of builders barring Jews from new housing developments. And there was every reason to believe that Anglo-Saxons would soon extend such prohibitions to Catholics and immigrants as well. Every opportunity they had, association officials hammered the message home. Agreements that denied blacks access to the homes of their choice were “the entering wedge of the Ku Klux Klan program of elimination.”

Related Symbols: Houses
Page Number: 204-205
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

“Why deny that the greatest asset that the State has in this case is prejudice and the greatest handicap that we have on this side of the table is prejudice […] I thought this case was fraught with nothing but disastrous things, and apart from the testimony, when I viewed here the sinister figure of prejudice, sitting before you twelve men in a dispensary of justice, but as I sat here this morning, and I saw an attempt made to arouse that prejudice, in order to becloud the issue here, so that you twelve men would not decide this case upon the testimony…I was amazed to think that a public prosecutor should go to the burial place of Leon Breiner and drag his helpless body before you in order that you might send Henry Sweet to jail because Leon Breiner is dead and Henry Sweet is black instead of white.”

Related Characters: Thomas Chawke (speaker), Henry Sweet, Arthur Garfield Hays, Leon Breiner
Related Symbols: Houses
Page Number: 329
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Arc of Justice LitChart as a printable PDF.
Arc of Justice PDF

Houses Symbol Timeline in Arc of Justice

The timeline below shows where the symbol Houses appears in Arc of Justice. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: Where Death Waits
Justice and Civil Rights Theme Icon
The American Dream Theme Icon
Garland Avenue sits between the city center and the luscious suburbs. It’s full of small homes on narrow, cramped lots. Its residents—all native-born white people or “respectable” immigrants (which means immigrants... (full context)
Self-Defense, Race, and Ownership Theme Icon
The American Dream Theme Icon
...September morning, the Black family arrives. By the time the neighborhood men and children arrive home from work and school, eight police officers loiter around the intersection. Curiosity and the intense... (full context)
Prejudice, Segregation, and Society Theme Icon
Justice and Civil Rights Theme Icon
...Schukenecht, the commander of the local police station, and his brother-in-law, Otto Lemhagen, guard the house that evening. As the crowd swells, its attitude turns sinister and Lemhagen can hear people... (full context)
The American Dream Theme Icon
The house should have been one of Ossian’s greatest accomplishments. Gladys wanted a house with a yard... (full context)
Prejudice, Segregation, and Society Theme Icon
Self-Defense, Race, and Ownership Theme Icon
...appear cowardly to colleagues, including Dr. Edward Carter, who specifically encouraged him to buy the house. (full context)
Prejudice, Segregation, and Society Theme Icon
Self-Defense, Race, and Ownership Theme Icon
...Alexander himself earlier in the summer. Nevertheless, friends and colleagues encouraged him to buy the house. Dr. Carter specifically told Ossian that white people were bullies who needed to be confronted.... (full context)
Prejudice, Segregation, and Society Theme Icon
Self-Defense, Race, and Ownership Theme Icon
...store. The police department offers temporary security. But Ossian knows that he must defend his house, violently if necessary. He calls on his brothers Otis Sweet and Henry Sweet, and his... (full context)
Prejudice, Segregation, and Society Theme Icon
The American Dream Theme Icon
Ossian and Gladys Sweet move into the house midmorning on the 8th assisted by their chauffeur Joe Mack, a handyman named Norris Murray,... (full context)
Self-Defense, Race, and Ownership Theme Icon
Ossian distributes weapons among the seven men in the house: Otis, Henry, Davis, Latting, Mack, Murray, and himself. Neither Julian Perry nor Dr. Edward Carter... (full context)
Justice and Civil Rights Theme Icon
...his friends, Leonard Morse and Charles Washington, agree to join the night’s watch over the house. (full context)
Prejudice, Segregation, and Society Theme Icon
Justice and Civil Rights Theme Icon
The American Dream Theme Icon
...about the night. He worries that a handful of policemen won’t be able protect the house from an organized, directed mob. Around six, the arrival of Mack with Murray, Washington, Watson,... (full context)
Prejudice, Segregation, and Society Theme Icon
Shortly before 8:00, the crowd starts to throw things at the house. A few police officers stand on the sidewalk, opposite hundreds of white people massing in... (full context)
Chapter 2: Ain’t No Slavery No More
Prejudice, Segregation, and Society Theme Icon
...man who worked in the phosphate mines. As a mob gathered to march on the home where he lived with his sister, the AME church issued a statement condemning his actions... (full context)
Chapter 5: White Houses
Prejudice, Segregation, and Society Theme Icon
Self-Defense, Race, and Ownership Theme Icon
...of 1925, rumors flow around Garland Avenue that a Black family has bought the corner house. The threat seems more imminent when posters advertising the Waterworks Park Improvement Society go up,... (full context)
Self-Defense, Race, and Ownership Theme Icon
The American Dream Theme Icon
...back in with Gladys’ parents while they saved money for the down payment on a house. Newly elevated by his European studies, Ossian spent much of the year rebuilding his practice.... (full context)
Prejudice, Segregation, and Society Theme Icon
Progress and Social Change Theme Icon
...more porous. Now, land developers write racially exclusionary covenants into the deeds for newly built houses. And real estate agents rarely show Black families houses in white neighborhoods, since their presence... (full context)
Prejudice, Segregation, and Society Theme Icon
Justice and Civil Rights Theme Icon
Self-Defense, Race, and Ownership Theme Icon
The American Dream Theme Icon
...husband of Ossian’s first Detroit patient, lets the doctor know about a fine, recently built house about to go on sale on Garland Avenue. Garland is hardly a middle- or professional-class... (full context)
Prejudice, Segregation, and Society Theme Icon
Self-Defense, Race, and Ownership Theme Icon
The American Dream Theme Icon
As soon as the Sweets visit the house—before they even buy it—rumors start swirling on Garland Avenue. Worry based on racist fearmongering that... (full context)
Justice and Civil Rights Theme Icon
Self-Defense, Race, and Ownership Theme Icon
...the traditional border of one Black neighborhood. When a white mob tries to storm the house, one of the Black women, Fleta Mathies, shoots a pistol out the window. This draws... (full context)
Prejudice, Segregation, and Society Theme Icon
Justice and Civil Rights Theme Icon
Self-Defense, Race, and Ownership Theme Icon
...in an all-white neighborhood on the east side, decides to move his family to a house a few blocks north of Tireman Avenue. Within a few hours of moving in, a... (full context)
Prejudice, Segregation, and Society Theme Icon
Justice and Civil Rights Theme Icon
Self-Defense, Race, and Ownership Theme Icon
...Tireman Avenue Improvement Association attacks Vollington Bristol, an old friend of Ossian’s. Bristol owns a house in a white neighborhood, which he rents to white tenants. But, fed up with issues... (full context)
Prejudice, Segregation, and Society Theme Icon
Justice and Civil Rights Theme Icon
Self-Defense, Race, and Ownership Theme Icon
Progress and Social Change Theme Icon
...later and a few blocks away, John Fletcher moves his Black family into a new house. As they sit down to dinner, a mob gathers in the street. Fletcher calls the... (full context)
Justice and Civil Rights Theme Icon
Self-Defense, Race, and Ownership Theme Icon
...Schuknecht finds him unreliable. With little forewarning, Schuknecht scrambles to arrange around-the-clock protection for the house and to muster backups at the precinct house. And tensions rise higher after a fleeing... (full context)
Chapter 6: The Letter of Your Law
Justice and Civil Rights Theme Icon
Self-Defense, Race, and Ownership Theme Icon
...or prepared for violence, but he does proudly assert his right to live in the house he purchased.  (full context)
Justice and Civil Rights Theme Icon
Self-Defense, Race, and Ownership Theme Icon
...alibis, still fails to break even the weakest member of the group. Everyone in the house agrees on two things, however: the house was under assault before the shooting began, and... (full context)
Justice and Civil Rights Theme Icon
The American Dream Theme Icon
...but she believes that she has as much right as anyone to live in a house she owns. But she still stonewalls Kennedy’s attempts to prove that the assault was planned... (full context)
Prejudice, Segregation, and Society Theme Icon
Justice and Civil Rights Theme Icon
...(the preferred paper of the city’s working-class white population) comments and a tour of the house. The story in the paper the following morning quotes Schuknecht’s claims that the street was... (full context)