Larry Buford: The Sweet Trials: Dr. Ossian Sweet

He defended his home in all white neighborhood; Clarence Darrow defended him

Dr. Sweet and home he defended

Dr. Sweet and home he defended

*The year 1968 was a sad year of dismay. In April, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Then two months later in June, presidential candidate Robert Kennedy met the same tragic fate.

It was during that time, at age 14, that I learned of the history of the house on the opposite end of the block from where we had recently moved in at 3031 Garland on Detroit’s eastside.

The house at 2905 Garland had once been the home of Dr. Ossian Sweet who was the center of what came to be known as The Sweet Trials. After reading his story, I remember thinking how violent the world was. I felt despair!

Dr. Sweet was a graduate of Howard University and Wilberforce University. His practice was internal medicine. Born October 30, 1895 in Bartow Florida, Sweet and his wife settled in Detroit, and this is where the story unfolds.

[Sweet knew friends and acquaintances who had suffered attacks after buying houses in white neighborhoods. The social volatility of the time resulted in the formation of the Waterworks Park Improvement Association; it was based on opposition to blacks moving into formerly all-white neighborhoods. These people were afraid that allowing blacks into their neighborhoods would lower property values. This was important because at this time, buying a home was a very difficult and lengthy process. The idea of buying land free and clear was no longer an option for most blacks, forcing them instead to take out multiple mortgages to buy a home, leading to even more debt. Working-class whites who lived in the neighborhood and made less money than Sweet resented his success. [citation needed]

Fearing an attack after he moved in, Sweet had nine other men at his house on the night of September 9, 1925, to help defend his family and property. The men included Charles Washington (insurance man), Leonard Morse (colleague), William Davis, Henry Sweet (Ossian’s brother), John Latting (Henry’s college friend), Norris Murray (handyman), Otis Sweet (Ossian’s brother) and Joe Mack (chauffeur). Gladys was with them inside the bungalow. Police inspector Norton Schuknecht and a detail of officers had been placed outside the Sweet’s house to keep the peace, and protect Ossian and Gladys from any angry neighbors. When a hostile crowd formed for the second consecutive night in front of his home, Sweet felt that “somewhere out there, standing among the women and children, lounging on the porches, lurking in the alleys were the men who would incite the crowd to violence”. As the crowd grew restless some, possibly children or teenagers, threw stones at the house, eventually breaking an upstairs window. Several of Dr. Sweet’s friends were waiting upstairs, armed with guns that Sweet had purchased prior to moving in. Shots were fired from upstairs, hitting two men. One of them, Eric Houghberg was wounded in the leg. The other man, Leon Breiner, was killed. The eleven African Americans inside were later brought to police headquarters and interrogated for five hours. Interrogations would last for an extended period of time and the men were held at the Wayne County Jail until the trial was over.] (Source: Wikipedia)

Sweet’s defense attorney was the famous Clarence Darrow. The home is now a historical landmark of the State of Michigan.

Sweet 2

To learn more about the trial and the fascinating life of Dr. Sweet, please click here:

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Larry Buford

Larry Buford is a Los Angeles based freelance writer. Author of “Things Are  Gettin’ Outta Hand” (Amazon). [email protected]