Sweet would have never considered moving into a predominantly white neighborhood in his home state of Florida. Michigan, though, greeted him equally violently. On the first night that his extended family and friends occupied the house, a mob formed outside. Once an object crashed through the window of their home on the corner of Garland and Charlevoix, this man did what many in his situation did before him: He defended himself. Shots were fired from the upstairs of the Sweets’ bungalow. One man was killed and another injured.
The Trial and Outcome
The eleven African-Americans in the house were immediately arrested. The ensuing court case involved other notable figures, including attorney Clarence Darrow and civil rights activist James Weldon Johnson. Future governor of Michigan Frank Murphy presided over the case. All defendants were ultimately acquitted and charges dismissed. A man’s home was indeed still his castle, and his race was not a factor in his right to defend.
Similar incidents occurred in Midwestern and Northeastern states in the following decades. The Sweet case, however, is notable for its outcome and for the illustrious personages involved. Defense attorney Clarence Darrow clearly recognized its importance, calling it “a cross section of human history.” “It involves the future,” he said, “and the hope of some of us that the future will be better than the past.”