One Man’s Castle: Clarence Darrow In Defense Of The American Dream

by William Jorden on March 15, 2011

by William T. Jorden, Esquire

On September 29, 1925, with the police looking on, an angry mob of several hundred Ku Klux Klan sympathizers, who did not want an African-American family moving into an all-white neighborhood, threw stones and screamed racial epithets at the Detroit home of Dr. Ossian Sweet. In defense, Dr. Sweet’s brother, Henry, and others in the house, fired several shots. One shot killed a man in the all-white mob. Eleven members of the Sweet family were arrested for conspiracy to murder.

Only five days before the trial was to begin, the NAACP beseeched Clarence Darrow, perhaps the greatest lawyer of his time, to represent the defendants. At age 70, and having spent the previous year trying the Scopes “monkey trial” and the famous Leopold and Loeb Murder case, Darrow was reluctant to take on this unpopular and politically charged defense. Relenting, Darrow accepted the case. Darrow’s defense was the racial prejudice of the mob and the police. A trial involving all defendants resulted in a hung jury. A second trial against Dr. Sweet’s younger brother, Henry, ended in an acquittal, shocking Detroit and the entire nation.

Clarence Darrow was born not far from Meadville, at Kinsman, Ohio, and opened his first law office in Andover. Later he relocated his practice to Chicago. Darrow is famous for fighting injustices created by racism and the excesses of greed, and argued to protect the weak and disenfranchised from the rich and powerfully enfranchised.

The full story of Clarence Darrow’s defense of The Sweet Family can be found in One Man’s Castle: Clarence Darrow In Defense Of The American Dream, by Phyllis Vine, Harper Collins Publishers.

We are a great nation. We owe our greatness in part to lawyers such as Clarence Darrow, who fought and continue to fight for the rights of all citizens to share in the American Dream.

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