(WXYZ) — A new city park coming to Detroit's east side is centered around a house, located at the corner of Garland and Charlevoix.
“This is an important lesson, not just for African-Americans, not just for Detroiters, but for all Americans,” Attorney Butch Hollowell.
In 1925, the house was owned by Dr. Ossian Sweet.
Now 96 years later, I joined Hollowell and Daniel Baxter on the front porch as they described what’s to come and what took place the night after Sweet moved his family into the home in the all-white neighborhood.
“On September 9, 1925, it was a sweltering evening. This was the site where a mob of four to 500 people swarmed this house to stop Dr. Ossian Sweet from integrating this part of Detroit,” Hollowell said.
Sweet had taken refuge in his bed on the second floor as the mob gathered and began pelting the house with rocks.
“Right at this window, two stones come in and when the glass breaks, it rests upon Dr. Sweet. And not even 10 seconds later, a volley of shots rings out of the house,” Baxter added.
Sweet’s brother Henry, had fired into the mob, striking and killing a protestor. A white teenager was also shot in the leg.
The most famous attorney of the time, Clarence Darrow, defended Sweet and the others in the house who were all arrested and charged with murder.
“He was able to win with an all-white jury, saying it’s endemic in our fiber to be able to defend, not just your home but to be able to live freely where you’d want to be able to live,” Hollowell said. “The legal principle here is taught in law schools today.”
A mistrial was declared. A second trial – for Sweet's brother Henry – ended in an acquittal.
The Baxter family has owned the Sweet house since 1958. Daniel grew up here.
"I was born in 1965 and I had one of the greatest childhoods that any kid on the east side of Detroit could ever experience and it was because of the sacrifice that Dr. Sweet made on September 8th and 9th, 1925,” said Baxter.
Thanks largely to Baxter’s efforts, the home today is on both the state and national registers of historic places.
It will become an interactive museum and centerpiece of the city’s ambitious park plan that also includes the restoration of two vacant houses directly across the street.
As a first step, crews were cutting and clearing overgrown bushes and trees from the lots and alley behind them during our visit.
The city received a federal civil rights grant of $500,000 dollars for the project – a figure Hollowell hopes to match with support from the private sector and philanthropic community.
“We will re-create the courtroom where that dramatic closing argument was made by Clarence Darrow,” said Hollowell. “They’ll be able to sit there and look at the jury box and the witness stand, and Frank Murphy sitting at the head as the Judge, so that they can feel that trial.”
“We want the authenticity of what happened here, why it was so important for the cause of housing and integration (17:12:32) and for educational purposes,” he added.