Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Sweet, Ossian

In 1925, Dr. Ossian Sweet, a prominent African American physician, purchased a home in an all-white Detroit neighborhood. The result was a mob scene, a murder charge, and a landmark lawsuit that helped define Detroit race relations. Born in 1895 in Orlando, Florida to tenant farmers, Sweet earned a medical degree from Howard University. After graduating in 1921, he moved to Detroit, and by the end of the year had established his practice in the back of the Palace Drug Company.

In 1925, Sweet made a down payment on 2905 Garland Street on the east side of Detroit. Black Bottom, the neighborhood where Sweet had his office, was burdened by overcrowding and substandard housing. White neighborhoods, where much of the better housing was located, were kept segregated by restrictive real estate and banking practices. When Sweet and his wife were introduced to a white family willing to sell to them, they made the purchase, aware of the possible risks.

Sweet, his wife Gladys, and their young daughter moved into the house on September 8, 1925. Many of the white residents were upset about the arrival of an African American family and gathered outside the home that evening. Aware of his new neighbors’ hostility toward him and his family, Sweet arranged for several of his friends and relatives to stay in the house with them for a few days. Sweet also ensured he had a small supply of guns and ammunition to protect his family if necessary. The following day, the crowd had grown into a mob of several hundred whites who began throwing rocks and bottles at the house. That evening, several shots were fired from the house into the crowd, killing one man and wounding another. The police arrested everyone inside, and charged each of them with first-degree murder. After the arrests, a series of trials ensued.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) assisted in the defense, bringing in Clarence Darrow as chief counsel. The first trial ended with a hung jury and the second trial ended in an acquittal. Afterwards, no further effort was made to prosecute Ossian Sweet or the other defendants.

Sweet moved back into the Garland Street house in 1928, where he lived until he sold the house in 1958. While Sweet was successful professionally, his personal life was turbulent, and in 1960 Sweet took his own life. The Ossian Sweet House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. A State of Michigan Historical Marker was erected on July 22, 2004.



Booklet highlighting the Trial of Ossian Sweet, 1927 - 2012.004.036

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