Great Michigan Read: “Arc of Justice”

The National Book Award-winning (and Pulitzer Prize finalist) book “Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights and Murder in the Jazz Age,” by Detroit native Kevin Boyle, is the focus of KDL’s Great Michigan Read book discussion.

The book recounts 1920s-era Detroit, a time when the city was a smoky swirl of jazz and speakeasies, assembly lines and fistfights. The advent of automobiles had brought workers from around the globe to compete for manufacturing jobs, and tensions often flared with the KKK in ascendance and violence rising. Ossian Sweet, a proud Negro doctor and grandson of a slave, had made the long climb from the ghetto to a home of his own in a previously all-white neighborhood. Yet just after his arrival, a mob gathered outside his house; suddenly, shots rang out: Sweet, or one of his defenders, had accidentally killed one of the whites threatening their lives and homes.

And so it began: a chain of events that brought America’s greatest attorney, Clarence Darrow, into the fray and transformed Sweet into a controversial symbol of equality. Boyle weaves the police investigation and courtroom drama of Sweet’s murder trial into an unforgettable tapestry of narrative history that documents the volatile America of the 1920s and movingly re-creates the Sweet family’s journey from slavery through the Great Migration to the middle class.

KDL book discussions on “Arc of Justice” will be held at the following branches:

Tuesday, January 17, 1:30 p.m. — Sand Lake / Nelson Township branch
Wednesday, January 18, 6:30 p.m. — Plainfield Township branch
Monday, January 23, 1:00 p.m. — Gaines Township branch
Thursday, February 9, 6:30 p.m. — Grandville branch
Thursday, February 9, 6:45 p.m. — Krause Memorial branch
Tuesday, February 21, 6:30 p.m. — Wyoming branch

At 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, February 21 at the Kentwood branch, Dr. David Pilgrim, professor and founder of the Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State University, will host a one-hour presentation that examines messages in imagery that defame blacks, women, Arabs, gays and other groups.

At 6:30 p.m. on Monday, March 19, also at the Kentwood branch, Davenport University students and local experts will provide a panel presentation that contextualizes the story of Dr. Sweet, followed by table discussions of “Arc of Justice.”

The event is part of the Great Michigan Read, which is presented by the Michigan Humanities Council in partnership with Davenport University and the Kentwood Branch Library of KDL with support from Meijer and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Davenport received a grant from the Michigan Humanities Council to bring Dr. Pilgrim to the branch.

Copies of the book and book discussion guidelines are available at KDL branches.

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Written by Morgan J.

Morgan J.

Morgan J. is a KDL communications assistant. She spends summers as a “hood ornament” of sorts while her husband captains their old, cedar-sided pontoon down the Flat River. In the wintertime she counts the days until she’ll have her toes in the water again.



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