Arc of Justice

Arc of Justice

by

Kevin Boyle

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Talented Tenth Term Analysis

The idea of “the talented tenth”—an elite, educated, and professionalized leadership class of Black Americans who would spearhead efforts at racial integration—was developed by Northern white philanthropists in the late 19th century. It later became strongly associated with the ideas and writings of W. E. B. Du Bois. He publicly argued that members of the talented tenth had the obligation to sacrifice their personal interests to lead and advance the interests of the Black community. Men like Wilberforce University president William Sanders Scarborough, James Weldon Johnson, and even Walter White exemplified the ideal of the talented tenth. Scarborough instilled this idea into Wilberforce students, and Ossian Sweet seems to have understood his attempt to take a principled stand on his right to protect his house out of a sense of responsibility to represent and advance his race. Even though men like Du Bois, Johnson, and White advocated tirelessly for the advancement of Black Americans, talented tenth ideology could be—and was—criticized for its classist focus on the wealthy and the educated. It also focused on encouraging Black people to conform to white standards, rather than claiming the inherent right of all Black people—regardless of education or economic status—to participate in American politics and society.

Talented Tenth Quotes in Arc of Justice

The Arc of Justice quotes below are all either spoken by Talented Tenth or refer to Talented Tenth. For each quote, you can also see the other terms 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

It took him twelve more years to fulfill his parents’ instructions, a dozen long, hard years of schooling to master the material that would make him an educated man and earn the pride that was expected of the race’s best men, all the while working as a serving boy for white people […] Ossian never excelled, but he got an education, as fine an education as almost any man in America, colored or white, could claim. By age twenty-five, he had earned his bachelor of science degree […] and his medical degree from Washington, D.C.’s Howard University, the jewel in the crown of Negro colleges.

Related Characters: Ossian Sweet, W. E. B. Du Bois
Page Number: 20-21
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:
Chapter 5 Quotes

He could demand a new status. Rather than driving his old Model T […] he bought a brand-new Buick touring car, an automobile to match the fine machines of his senior colleagues parked outside Dunbar Memorial. There wasn’t any question that, after his time away, he’d rebuild his practice in Black Bottom. But instead of moving back to Palace Drugs, he rented a space a few blocks north of the pharmacy. It was just a storefront, right next door to a funeral home, hardly a reassuring sight for sick folk making their way to his waiting room, but for the first time in his career, Ossian had an office of his own, an indulgence perhaps, but also a sure sign of upward mobility.

Related Characters: Ossian Sweet, Edward Carter
Page Number: 135-136
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

The Klan was in the ascendancy; the Negroes’ white allies on the bench had deserted them; the mayor they had helped to elect had endorsed injustice and declared the pursuit of civil rights a threat to peace and liberal democracy. No longer was this simply a question of whether the Sweets were justified in firing into the mob on Garland Avenue. Now the Talented Tenth was locked in combat against segregation itself, battling to preserve some shred of the promise that brought almost a million people out of the South in the previous ten years, to show that the North was different, to prove that there were places in America where Jim Crow would not be allowed to rule. This had become a fight over fundamentals.

Related Characters: Ossian Sweet, Gladys Sweet, John Smith
Page Number: 196
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7 Quotes

Ossian was quoted as saying in late September, “I am willing to stay indefinitely in the cell and be punished. I feel sure by the demonstration made by my people that they have confidence in me as a law-abiding citizen. I denounce the theory of Ku Kluxism and uphold the theory of manhood with a wife and tiny baby to protect.” Tough as nails on the night of the shooting, Gladys became in White’s hands a black Madonna, her arms aching for the child she could not hold. “Though I suffer and am torn loose from my fourteen-month-old baby,” she said, “I feel it is my duty to the womanhood of the race. If I am freed I shall return and live at my home on Garland Avenue.”

Related Characters: Ossian Sweet (speaker), Gladys Sweet (speaker), Iva Sweet, Walter White, Leon Breiner
Page Number: 220
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9 Quotes

Ossian didn’t have to testify. No one could have objected to his refusing, so great was the responsibility: if he said the wrong word, put the wrong inflection in his voice, sat in a way that struck the jurors as too casual or too confident, grew rattled under cross-examination, succumbed to a single flash of anger, whatever sympathy Darrow and Hays had won for the defendants could be lost, the entire defense destroyed. But Ossian didn’t refuse. Undoubtedly he agreed out of pride—the intoxicating sense that in the past few weeks he had become the representative of his race and the champion of its rights—and, as always, out of obligation. He would do what his lawyers wanted him to do, what his wife and brothers and friends needed him to do, what his colleagues surely expected him to do. He had no choice, really, but to take the stand.

Page Number: 288
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

Ossian’s sense of himself soared with all the acclaim. When the Harlem rally was finished, Walter White dispatched the Sweets on a six-day tour of NAACP branches. The association wanted the couple simply to appear at each venue, say a few words of thanks, and stand by quietly while the association’s director of branches […] appealed for contributions. But whenever Ossian saw the people waiting for him […] he began to hold forth like the luminary everyone said he was […] Although he claimed to be no orator, Ossian “thundered” at his audiences, according to the Chicago Defender, trying to impress them with a mix of exaggeration, self-righteousness, and more than a touch of arrogance.

Related Characters: Ossian Sweet, Gladys Sweet, Walter White
Page Number: 306
Explanation and Analysis:
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Talented Tenth Term Timeline in Arc of Justice

The timeline below shows where the term Talented Tenth appears in Arc of Justice. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3: Migration
Prejudice, Segregation, and Society Theme Icon
The American Dream Theme Icon
...the race will only advance on the efforts of “exceptional men and women,” a “ talented tenth ” capable of great things. A rigorous education will mold these people into racial standard... (full context)
Prejudice, Segregation, and Society Theme Icon
The American Dream Theme Icon
But the university’s president, William Sanders Scarborough, refused to compromise the talented tenth ideal when it came to the college’s academic students. Scarborough was born into slavery in... (full context)
Prejudice, Segregation, and Society Theme Icon
The American Dream Theme Icon
...impoverished Black neighborhood of the capitol but the graceful neighborhoods where the successful Black elite—the talented tenth —live. And its medical school is its crown jewel. The curriculum easily meets the new... (full context)
Chapter 4: Uplift Me, Pride
Prejudice, Segregation, and Society Theme Icon
Justice and Civil Rights Theme Icon
Self-Defense, Race, and Ownership Theme Icon
...armed resistance. While Black nationalist ideas draw some Black Bottom residents, most of the Black talented tenth , including Ossian and his medical colleagues, remain staunch integrationists. Their efforts to improve the... (full context)
Chapter 5: White Houses
Prejudice, Segregation, and Society Theme Icon
Justice and Civil Rights Theme Icon
Self-Defense, Race, and Ownership Theme Icon
...Smith refuses to be intimidated, and both white progressives like pastor Reinhold Niebuhr and Detroit’s talented tenth close ranks behind him. But, while 99% of Black Bottom voters choose Smith, enough white... (full context)
Prejudice, Segregation, and Society Theme Icon
Justice and Civil Rights Theme Icon
Self-Defense, Race, and Ownership Theme Icon
...in society for the sake of peace. While Ossian, Turner, and other members of Detroit’s talented tenth gather to discuss the attacks, Marie Smith calls to tell Ossian that the Garland Avenue... (full context)
Chapter 6: The Letter of Your Law
Justice and Civil Rights Theme Icon
Progress and Social Change Theme Icon
...Mahoney both grew up facing discrimination and hardship but rose to the ranks of the talented tenth thanks to their educations. Both advocate for civil rights. Perry, Rowlette, and Mahoney likely go... (full context)
Prejudice, Segregation, and Society Theme Icon
Justice and Civil Rights Theme Icon
The American Dream Theme Icon
...and the others sweat in jail. William Davis, a federal narcotics officer—another member of the talented tenth —breaks first, afraid of sacrificing a promising career. He confesses that Ossian said that “he... (full context)
Prejudice, Segregation, and Society Theme Icon
Stung by this betrayal, both the talented tenth and the lowlier denizens of Black Bottom understand the danger of the moment. The Sweets’... (full context)
Chapter 8: The Prodigal Son
Justice and Civil Rights Theme Icon
Self-Defense, Race, and Ownership Theme Icon
...luminaries as W. E. B. Du Bois, who elevates him as an example for the talented tenth while criticizing Alexander Turner’s failure to stand up. Slowly, Ossian’s memory shifts; his fears and... (full context)