In 1925, the African American Sweet family moved into an all white neighborhood. All the Sweet family wanted was a quiet life in a nice, safe home. Instead, on September 9, 1925, a huge mob gathered in the street, began throwing rocks at the home, and threatened the lives of the Sweets and their friends. One of the home's defenders fired on the crowd, slaying a white man. Soon a trial would occur, resulting in a deadlocked jury.
A second trial, presided over by future United States Supreme Court Justice Frank Murphy. The verdict was the acquittal of Henry Sweet - the only defendant tried at that time. The prosecutor then dismissed the case against the rest of the defendants.
Clarence Darrow, perhaps the most renowned trial attorney of the age, defended the Sweets. He focused on the unalienable rights to possess and defend a home, including with force of arms, and the right to be treated equally under the law, regardless of race. His closing argument is still stirring today; its most famous passage is below:
I am the last one to come here to stir up race hatred, or any other hatred. I do not believe in the law of hate. I may not be true to my ideals always, but I believe in the law of love, and I believe you can do nothing with hatred. 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 has 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? I know there is a long road ahead of him, before he can take the place which I believe he should take. I know that before him there is suffering, sorrow, tribulation and death among the blacks, and perhaps the whites. I am sorry. I would do what I could to avert it. I would advise patience; I would advise toleration; I would advise understanding; I would advise all of those things which are necessary for men who live together.
Gentlemen, what do you think is your duty in this case? I have watched, day after day, these black, tense faces that have crowded this court. These black faces that now are looking to you twelve whites, feeling that the hopes and fears of a race are in your keeping.
This case is about to end, gentlemen. To them, it is life. Not one of their color sits on this jury. Their fate is in the hands of twelve whites. Their eyes are fixed on you, their hearts go out to you, and their hopes hang on your verdict.
This is all. I ask you, on behalf of this defendant, on behalf of these helpless ones who turn to you, and more than that,--on behalf of this great state, and this great city which must face this problem, and face it fairly,--I ask you, in the name of progress and of the human race, to return a verdict of not guilty in this case!85 years later, Darrow's words still teach us the need to provide equal justice for all.
For more on these themes, visit Patriot Week and America's Survival Guide.