Kevin Boyle's Arc Of Justice

848 Words4 Pages
Arc of Justice: Racial Tensions and the Social Politics of 1920s Detroit

In Arc of Justice, A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age, Kevin Boyle chronicles racism in 1920s Detroit through the lens of Dr. Ossian Sweet. The book starts off by detailing the events leading up to the famous trial that serves as the book’s focus, and then transitions into Sweet’s family and personal history; the book then returns to the trial and details its progression. Boyle makes use of a staggering variety of sources to provide an extremely in-depth account of the events, and does an excellent job collating a large number of sources into a single coherent account of the Sweet trial. But while his account of the trial, and the provided context
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In the first few chapters alone he references a book on the architecture of railway stations (pg 21, note 1), the weather section of a newspaper (pg 33, note 1), and a marriage licence (pg 48, note 42); all of these sources only supported minute details, but they gave significant credibility to how meticulous Boyle was when he researched the book. His attention to detail continues to be apparent when looking at the sources he chose when supporting the wider narrative. Boyle makes use of everything from court transcripts and witness testimonies, to census data and immigration data, to create an exquisitely detailed window into the race relations and political environment of 1920s…show more content…
While the events described in Arc of Justice were occuring, America was dealing with ever increasing racial tensions. These were not just the typical black and white tensions that many people characterize the time period with, but tensions between self-described “native Americans” and the new waves of immigrants coming over from places such as Ireland and Italy. Sources such as Madison Grant’s The Passing of the Great Race, showcase how these “new immigrants” were perceived as “[the new immigrants are] the weak, the broken and the mentally crippled of all races.” Tensions were building across the country in the early 20th century, with “the widespread notion that hordes of undesirable ethnic minorities were about to swamp the nation’s social structure, destroying the cultural purity and intellectual standards [of America].” (Parrish, Anxious Decades, pg. 111) This narrative blended well with the already existing narrative of the inferiority of african americans, and because of this the two ideas shared many of the same supporters. Had Boyle contextualized the the Sweet trials as part of the greater American racial conflict, he would have made Arc of Justice into a significantly more well-rounded
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