$500,000 federal grant will preserve Dr. Ossian Sweet historic district

$500,000 federal grant will preserve Dr. Ossian Sweet historic district

There are many places in Detroit that memorialize the Civil Rights movement and the struggles African Americans have faced.

The First Congregational Church of Detroit features the Underground Railroad Museum and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History has the world’s largest permanent exhibit on African American history.

This house at 2905 Garland Ave. in East Village memorializes the fight of African Americans to live where they please. Photo: Andrew Jameson

There is another place at 2905 Garland Ave. in East Village that played a huge role in the movement and memorializes the fight of African Americans to live where they please.

It is the former home of Dr. Ossian Sweet, a successful African American physician, who bought the house in what was then an all-white neighborhood in 1925. Shortly after he and his family moved in they faced the wrath of their neighbors. The fight resulted in Sweet being tried for murder and the hiring of legendary attorney Clarence Darrow to defend him.

That home, as well as two adjacent houses, will now be preserved.

The City of Detroit has been awarded a $500,000 grant from the African American Civil Rights program of the Historic Preservation Fund, National Park Service, and Department of the Interior. The effort is among 51 winning projects in 24 states that will preserve sites and highlight stories related to the African American struggle for equality in the 20th century.

Dr. Ossian Sweet insisted on his right to home ownership wherever he pleased and bought the home in an all-white neighborhood.

Here’s the story.

On September 9, just days after Sweet and his family moved in, a violent mob gathered outside intending to drive them out of the neighborhood. Sweet decided to stand his ground and things turned ugly. Rocks were thrown. Shots were fired in defense and one man in the mob died.

Sweet and others in the home at the time were arrested and charged with murder. The NAACP hired renowned attorney Clarence Darrow to represent Sweet. The case resulted in acquittal, bringing international attention to US housing discrimination.

The federal grant will pay for the cost of preserving and interpreting a space in the Sweet house that will be open to the public for scheduled visits. It will also rehabilitate two additional properties across Garland Street where the violent mob gathered and where the shooting occurred.

The City is in the process of expanding the district to include those properties at 2912 and 2918 Garland to cover the broader anti-integration movement and the events at the Ossian Sweet House as it relates to the Civil Rights Movement.

“As Detroit continues to move forward, we cannot forget where we’ve been,” says Mayor Mike Duggan. “Preserving the Dr. Sweet home and expanding the historic district will give us a chance to reflect on the struggles many African American families have faced and celebrate champions like Dr. Sweet and others, who stood up for what is right.”

Today, the Sweet home is privately owned, and only that home is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.


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