Arc of Justice

Arc of Justice


Kevin Boyle

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Themes and Colors
Prejudice, Segregation, and Society Theme Icon
Justice and Civil Rights Theme Icon
Self-Defense, Race, and Ownership Theme Icon
The American Dream Theme Icon
Progress and Social Change Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Arc of Justice, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Prejudice, Segregation, and Society

Arc of Justice focuses on America in the mid-1920s, years during which Jim Crow-style segregation and the terroristic tactics and violence of the Ku Klux Klan flowered in northern American cities like Detroit. The trial of Ossian Sweet, his brother Henry, and eight other men accused of murder for defending Ossian’s new house from a violent white mob occurs in this context. Read together, the case and the broader societal situation reveal…

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Justice and Civil Rights

Arc of Justice traces the story of Black doctor Ossian Sweet, whose move into an all-white Detroit neighborhood with his family precipitates the death of a white man when a mob attacks the house. When Ossian, his brother Henry, and eight other men are charged with first-degree murder, the NAACP seizes on the case as an opportunity to bring national attention to the issue of increasing, legally sanctioned but dreadfully unjust housing segregation…

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Self-Defense, Race, and Ownership

Arc of Justice centers around the trial of Black doctor Ossian Sweet, his brother Henry, and eight other men who gathered to protect Ossian’s new house from a threatening mob of white neighbors. Thus, the book presents an idea of self-defense that is deeply tied to the idea that owning (and defending) property is one important way to participate in one’s racial group. For example, white Garland Avenue residents worry about safety and…

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The American Dream

The man at the heart of Arc of Justice, Ossian Sweet, was born in Florida to parents who were only one generation removed from slavery. Nevertheless, through hard work and luck, they eventually bought a small farm and made sure that their children received the best educations available to them. From this foundation, with no small amount of his own hard work, Ossian became a doctor and built a thriving practice in Detroit’s…

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Progress and Social Change

Arc of Justice traces the personal and family history of Black doctor Ossian Sweet and the aftermath of his decision to buy a house in a majority-white Detroit neighborhood against the broader context of early 20th century America. Several decades of social, political, and economic upheaval created great opportunities for Black men like Ossian and people from other minority groups. Men like Ossian, the grandson of enslaved people and sharecroppers, could amass fortunes. Members of…

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