The Sweet Trials, Clarence Darrow and Race
"Gentlemen, I ask you to use all of your judgment, all of your understanding, all of your sympathy in the decision of this case. I speak not only for these eleven people, but for a race that in spite of what you may do will go on and on and on to heights that it has never known before. I speak to you not only in behalf of them, but in behalf of the millions of blacks who look to these twelve white faces for confidence and trust and hope in the institutions of our land, and in the guarantees that the laws have made to them, those blacks who all up and down the length and breadth of our land, and whose ancestors we brought here in chains . . . ."
Closing Argument of Clarence Darrow in the trial of Ossian Sweet et. al., November 24, 1925 (first Sweet trial)

"I would like to see a time when man loves his fellow-man, and forgets his color or his creed. We will never be civilized until that time comes. I know the Negro race has a long road to go. I believe the life of the Negro race has been a life of tragedy, of injustice, of oppression. The law had made him equal, but man has not. And, after all, the last analysis is, what has man done? - and not what has the law done?"
Closing Argument of Clarence Darrow in the trial of Henry Sweet, May 18, 1926 (second Sweet trial)

Trial Documents

Various subpoenas for the first Sweet trial.
Miscellaneous Documents from the Sweet Trial 
Includes list of witnesses, defense demands for separate trials, request for bail and information filed by the prosecutor.
Motion to Quash Information and Discharge Defendants  Oct, 1925
Motion filed by Cecil Rowlette, Julian Perry, and Charles Mahoney, three black attorneys who first represented the Sweets and the other defendants.
Closing Argument of Clarence Darrow in the First Sweet Trial  Nov, 1925
The People v. Ossian Sweet, Gladys Sweet, et. al. (1925).
Trial Transcripts: Closing Arguments in the Henry Sweet trial (2nd Sweet trial)  May, 1926
Partial transcript of the Henry Sweet trial containing closing arguments of Lester Moll (prosecution), Thomas F. Chawke (defense) and Robert Toms (prosecution). Also contains Judge Frank Murphy's instructions to the jury.
Nolle Prosequi  Jul, 1927
In June 1927, prosecutor Robert Toms filed this nolle prosequi to drop any further prosecution of the Sweets or the other defendants. Nolle prosequi is Latin for "not to wish to prosecute" and is "A legal notice that a lawsuit or prosecution has been abandoned." Black's Law Dictionary. Toms acknowledged that the state's evidence against Henry Sweet was much stronger than against the other defendants and since Henry Sweet was found not guilty it was not likely the state could prevail against the other defendants - "in view of the proceedings already had in this cause such a result seems improbable to the last degree."


Pond v. People, 8 Mich. 150 (1860)  May, 1860
This is an 1860 Michigan Supreme Court case relied on by the defense. The court held that the law does not require that one who kills another in self-defense must be in actual or imminent danger but may do so if the defendant acts under reasonable apprehension of the danger even if later he turns out to have been mistaken. The case also states that "a man assaulted in his dwelling is not obliged to retreat" and may use force including deadly force to repel the attacker.


Michigan Compiled Statute 15001  Jan, 1915
Michigan statute that defines twelve or more armed persons or thirty or more unarmed persons unlawfully assembled as an offense against the public peace and directs government officials and police to disperse them. The Sweet defense used this statute to show that the white crowd gathered around Ossian Sweet's home was an unlawful "mob" and the Sweet defendants were justified when they defended themselves. Judge Murphy's instructions to the jury during the Henry Sweet trial incorporated this statute: "If you find that on the night of September 9th, in the vicinity of Dr. Sweet's home, twelve or more persons armed with clubs or other dangerous weapons, or thirty or more, whether armed or not, were assembled for the purpose of violently ejecting Dr. Sweet from his home, or for the purpose of intimidating him by threats so that he would leave his home, then such persons were engaged in an unlawful assembly or riot, even though there was no loud tumult or great confusion."
Michigan Public Acts, 1927 - No. 372  Jun, 1927
Michigan gun-control statute enacted after the Sweet trials. Although race neutral on its face it was enacted to keep blacks from owning firearms.
Dr. Ossian Sweet Self-defense Act  Apr, 2006
2006 bill which would allow an individual to use deadly force against an attacker with no duty to retreat under certain conditions. It was later amended to remove the name: "Dr. Ossian Sweet Self Defense Act". The amendment passed in the Senate by voice vote on June 6, 2006. The bill passed in the Senate (28 to 10) on June 6, 2006 and passed in the House (90 to 17) on June 27, 2006. It established that a law-abiding person who is attacked in any place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat, and can stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm. The vote was 90 in favor, 17 opposed, and 0 not voting. It was signed into law by Gov. Jennifer Granholm on July 18, 2006. The law is titled the "Self-defense Act."

Government Documents

Complaint and Warrant  Sep, 1925
The complaint and criminal warrant against the Sweets and other defendants.
The Negro in Detroit 
Report of the Mayor's Interracial Commission. Mayor John Smith appointed the commission in the aftermath of the murder of Leon Breiner to study the problems of race relations in Detroit.

Magazine Articles

Possibilities of the Negro: The Advance Guard of the Race by W.E.B. Du Bois  Jul, 1903
This article is about ten successful and prominent black citizens; the author and three of the men discussed were friends of Clarence Darrow. W.E.B. Du Bois was a co-founder of the NAACP and was one of the most important black leaders of his day. Edward H. Morris was a prominent Chicago attorney and politician. Daniel Hale Williams was perhaps the most prominent black surgeon of his day, and served as Darrow's personal physician for a time. Charles Waddell Chesnutt was a writer and political activist. From Appleton's The Booklover's Magazine (1903).
Clarence Darrow criticized in Watson's Jeffersonian Magazine 
Watson's Magazine criticized Darrow for advocating interracial marriage when Darrow spoke at the second annual conference of the National Negro Committee in New York from May 12-14, 1910. This meeting has been identified as the beginning of the NAACP. Watson's Magazine was owned and edited by Thomas Edward Watson, a U.S. Senator from Georgia from 1920 until his death in 1922. Watson and his publications were very anti-Semite, anti-Catholic and anti-black.
National Negro Conference 
Announcement about the second annual conference of the National Negro Committee to be held in New York on May 12-14, 1910. Clarence Darrow spoke at this conference which resulted in the formation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Closing the Little Black Schoolhouse: Second National Negro Conference Results in New Organization by May White Ovington  May, 1910
The second annual conference of the National Negro Committee took place in New York from May 12-14, 1910. This meeting is often thought to have led to the formation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). This report states: "At its business meetings the conference adopted a plan of permanent organization. The committee was to become the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, with headquarters in New York."

However, Mary White Ovington identifies the first conference she attended with William English Walling as the start of the NAACP: "So I wrote to Mr. Walling, and after some time, for he was in the West, we met in New York in the first week of the year of 1909. With us was Dr. Henry Moskowitz, now prominent in the administration of John Purroy Mitchell, Mayor of New York. It was then that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was born. It was born in a little room of a New York apartment." How NAACP Began

According to the report of the second annual conference, "[t]he speakers of the white race ranged all the way from a conservative Virginian, Oscar Crosby . . . to the labor champion, Clarence Darrow of Chicago." Darrow shocked many whites when he called for overturning laws barring interracial marriage. NOTE: The author is listed as May White Ovington, but she is most often referred to as Mary White Ovington.
Colored Chicago and Some Chicagoans of Note 
The Crisis, the flagship publication of the NAACP, published this article about prominent blacks in Chicago. The article mentions three individuals who were friends of Clarence Darrow: Oscar DePriest, Dr. Daniel Hale Williams and Jesse Binga.
Negroes Move North 
Article describing migration of blacks from the South to the North. Written by George Edmund Haynes, a professor at Fisk University and the Educational Secretary of the National League on Urban Conditions Among Negroes.
The Case of Samuel Moore 
Editorial in "The Crisis" about Samuel Moore who was convicted of first degree murder in Washington in 1891 and sentenced to death for killing a white man. President Harrison later commuted the sentence to life in prison. Moore always claimed self defense and his requests for parole were championed by Eugene Debs who for a time was in the same prison. Moore got out of prison in 1927 but was sent back to prison at some point. In September 1942 the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed Moore's pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus asking to be dismissed from custody. The court recommended Moore apply for Executive clemency. The court stated "Petitioner is an aged negro who has served more than half a century in prison. He wants to die a free man." At the time of his petition Moore was in the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield Missouri. He had been in prison for a total of more than fifty years. Moore wrote several letters to Clarence Darrow's wife Ruby in 1939 and 1940.
Howard, The National University of the Negro Race by Emmet J. Scott  Jun, 1924
Short article written by the Secretary-Treasurer of Howard University. Scott says the Medical School is rated as "'Class A'" institution by the American Medical Association. Ossian Sweet graduated from Howard with a medical degree in 1921. At the time Howard was one of only two black medical schools in the country the other being Meharry Medical College in Nashville.


Darrow Says Dry Act Hasn't Killed 'Appetite'  Nov, 1925
Newspaper account of speech Clarence Darrow gave to black audience at Y.M.C.A. about Sweet trial and race. Darrow also talked about prohibition.


The Negro Problem: A Series of Articles by Representative American Negroes of To-day 
Contributions by Booker T. Washington, William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, C. W. Chesnutt, W. H. Smith, H. T. Keeling, P. L. Dunbar, and T. T. Fortune.
Proceedings of the National Negro Conference 1909 
Held in New York May 31 - June 1, 1909.
Half a Man: The Status of the Negro in New York by Mary White Ovington 
Mary White Ovington was a co-founder of the NAACP.
Three Spiritual Leaders of the American Negro 
Excerpt about William S. Scarborough of Wilberforce University. Published in the "The African Abroad: Or, His Evolution in Western Civilization, Tracing His Development Under Caucasian Milieu" by William Henry Ferris
William Lloyd Garrison: A Centennial Oration by Reverdy C. Ransom, D.D. 
Reverdy C. Ransom was a good friend of Clarence Darrow. Published in "Masterpieces of Negro Eloquence: The Best Speeches Delivered by the Negro from the Days of Slavery to the Present Time" by Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson.
History and Report of the Exhibition and Celebration to Commemorate the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Emancipation of the Negro 
Clarence Darrow and many others were named Honorary Vice Presidents for this celebration held at the Coliseum in Chicago from August 22 to September 16, 1915.


Edward H. Morris 
Short bio of Edward Morris, a black attorney in Illinois. Clarence Darrow was good friends with Morris and worked with him in 1917 to defend Oscar DePriest a black Chicago politician on trial for conspiracy charges relating to gambling and prostitution. In November 1923, Darrow wrote a letter to the editor of The Broad Ax, a black Chicago newspaper, strongly protesting a report from a committee of the Chicago Bar on candidates for judges. The report stated that Morris was not fit for the bench and also mentioned that he was a "colored man." Darrow accused the committee of being prompted "solely" by Morris' color and praised his ability.
The Future of the Negro by William Sanders Scarborough 
William Sanders Scarborough was the President of Wilberforce University when Ossian Sweet attended. Scarborough was born into slavery in Macon, Georgia, in 1852. He went on to become the first African American classical scholar. Scarborough served as president of Wilberforce University between 1908 and 1920.
Biographical Sketch of Honorable Ossian B. Hart, Late Governor of Florida, 1873 
Ossian Sweet was named in honor of Ossian B. Hart a white progressive Republican Governor of Florida who fostered good relation with black citizens in Florida. Ossian's oldest brother, who died in infancy, had been named after Ossian B. Hart's brother.
The Problem of the Negro by Clarence Darrow  May, 1901
Address by Clarence Darrow before a mostly African-American audience at the Men's Club in Chicago on Sunday, May 19, 1901. Published in The International Socialist Review.
The Disfranchisement of the Negro by Charles W. Chesnutt 
Charles Waddell Chesnutt (1858 - 1932) was an African-American author, essayist and political activist. Chesnutt wrote a letter to Darrow in 1907 to thank him for sending a copy of a speech Darrow gave at the Bethel Church in Chicago in December 1906 about blacks and racism. This article about "Disfranchisement" was published in "The Negro Problem: A Series of Articles by Representative American Negroes of Today" by Booker T. Washington.
The Talented Tenth by W.E.B. DuBois 
1903 essay by DuBois explaining his theory that a talented group of educated blacks was needed to lead their race to social equality. DuBois began his essay with "The Negro race, like all races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men." Ossian Sweet became deeply immersed in DuBois's message and saw himself as part of this "talented tenth." Published in "The Negro Problem: A Series of Articles by Representative American Negroes of Today" by Booker T. Washington (1903).
National Conference on the Status of the American Negro 
An announcement for a two-day conference to be held in New York starting May 31, 1909 was published in "The Survey" by the Charitable Organization Society. Although it would not take on the name immediately, this conference was actually the first meeting after the formation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). This announcement states that among those giving an address would be Clarence Darrow.
Howard University Medical College 
Brief description of Howard University Medical College based on a 1910 inspection. From "Medical Education in the United States and Canada: A Report to the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching."
The Party of Freedom and the Freedmen--A Reciprocal Duty by William Sanders Scarborough 
Address delivered at the Lincoln Day Banquet, Dayton, Ohio, February 11, 1899. William Sanders Scarborough was President of Wilberforce University. Published in "Masterpieces of Negro Eloquence: The Best Speeches Delivered by the Negro from the Days of Slavery to the Present Time" by Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson.
Howard University 
Brief description of Howard University based on visits in 1915. Published in "Negro Education: A Study of the Private and Higher Schools for Colored People in the United States" by the United States Office of Education.
Wilberforce University 
Overview of Wilberforce University based on a 1915 site visit published in "Negro Education: A Study of the Private and Higher Schools for Colored People in the United States" by the United States Office of Education.
Catalogue Howard University 1917-1918 
Ossian Sweet is listed on page 261 of this catalog of the officers and students of Howard University during 1917-1918, the year that Sweet was a freshman medical student. The catalog also provides information about Howard University.
List of students in Howard University Medical School in 1918 
Ossian Sweet is listed as a freshman on page four. The list, from the Catalogue of Howard University, includes students in the medical, dental and pharmaceutic colleges.
Reverdy C. Ransom, of the A.M.E. Church 
Excerpt from "The Negro in Literature and Art" referring to Reverdy Ransom. Clarence Darrow and Ransom were friends and worked together to settle a labor strike in Chicago.
History of Wilberforce University 
Brief history published in "History of Greene County, Ohio: Its People, Industries and Institutions"
by Michael A. Broadstone.
Educational Problems by Reverdy C. Ransom 
Excerpts from an address given in June 1921. Clarence Darrow was a friend of Reverdy Ransom.
The Founding of Howard University by Walter Dyson  Jun, 1921
Written just after Ossian Sweet graduated from Howard University School of Medicine.
Clarence Darrow Tells Negro Audience to Maintain Attitude of Defiance Toward White Men  Feb, 1927
Critical description of a speech given by Clarence Darrow before a black audience in Baldwin, Alabama.
Samuel Moore Letters 
Samuel Moore, an African-American prisoner in the Federal Penitentiary in Atlanta, wrote these letters to Ruby Darrow in 1939 and 1940.
Proceedings in the Supreme Court of the United States In Memory of Mr. Justice Murphy  Mar, 1951
Resolutions adopted in memory of Justice Frank Murphy.

Photos - Key Figures