The excerpts below come from Marcet Haldeman-Julius's account of
the Sweet trials, published in
I liked Henry at once. He is in fact, an exceptional youth. Just twenty-two, about five feet seven in height, well built, brown in color (with typical Negro hair and a small mustache), African in cast of features, Henry is a student at Wilberforce College—a co-educational college for Negroes in Wilberforce, Ohio. He was just ready to enter his senior year when all this trouble started. Thanks to it, he has been obliged to stay out of college. During eighty-four days, last fall, he was in jail, and after the jury disagreed and (in November) he was admitted to bail under a ten thousand dollar bond, money was too scarce to justify his return to school, so late in the year, especially as the date of the next trial was uncertain. (Ever since the tenth of March it has been impending.) If Darrow is successful in his courageous and brilliant fight for justice and Henry is acquitted of the charge against him—the murder of Leon Breiner—he plans, once again he is free to shape his own life, to take his B. A. degree from Wilberforce, and then go either to Harvard or Columbia for his law course.
Henry is a gentle soul, kindly, and courteous, full of the bright, high hopes of youth, and miraculously unembittered by the cruel ordeal through which he has been and is being put. His manner, considered from any point of view, is unimpeachable. Neither shy, nor aggressive, neither servile nor arrogant, he has the quiet poise of a youth, who, trough great hardships, already has reached and passed several milestones along the steep upward road he has set himself to travel. Candidly, I got an impression of sterling character rather than of an unusual mind. He seemed to me neither much better nor less well informed than the average run of college boys I meet. I have no doubt that he will make a solid dependable lawyer, for he is a sort to do thoroughly and conscientiously whatever he undertakes. One instinctively has confidence in him. But he is not an intellectual person. Just a nice, sensible, wide awake, ambitious but decidedly modest and unassuming youth—that is Henry Sweet. He was born in Florida and until three years ago, when he came north to Wilberforce, spent his entire life in that State. His whole background, like his accent and inflection, is Southern. I want you to see him very clearly because he is the storm center of the prosecution’s attack.
And now...you must meet Dr. Sweet, himself. In appearance, he is a well set up, broad-shouldered, quiet, firm-jawed, dignified man, with tired eyes, so dark that beside them his brown face seems considerably lighter than it really is. He has a small, black mustache, full firm but not thick lips, nice teeth, and a good forehead. His whole head is well shaped and his face keen and alert in expression. One would, I think, surmise almost a first glance that he was a professional man. Also, even in a crowd, a careful observer would perceive that he was in all probability, a college-bred man. In a quiet unostentatious way he is well groomed.
Naturally an extravert, born with a gift for getting on with people, a natural leader, hospitable and sociably inclined, he has been so hamperd in his profession simply because of his color, has been so often insulted on the one hand and on the other condescended to, has been so lied to, deceived, robbed and humiliated merely because of his race that he has become a profoundly cynical man. Where Gladys thinks of herself simply as a human being—you can take my word for it that she is scarcely more conscious of the fact that she is a Negro than I am conscious of the fact that I am white—Dr. Sweet never really forgets his race. He bleeds with every Negro who is mistreated and triumphs with every Negro who achieves. He is keenly and shrewdly aware of all the weakness and shortcomings of his people. In spite of them, he has infinite faith in the ultimate future of his race. With him, race loyalty amounts almost to a passion. Meanwhile, wisely or foolishly, he makes many compromises. Quite debunked along religious lines, he does not, as does Gladys, frankly call himself an agnostic. For one thing, his father is a Methodist preacher (he owns a little place in Bartow, Florida, on which along with other things he raises a few oranges). Then, too, nearly all of Dr. Sweet’s patients are church members. Moreover, they take their religion seriously. Very seriously indeed, and the Doctor, to put it plainly, does not like to antagonize them. A materialist, he comprehends thoroughly (perhaps almost a little too thoroughly), the value of money. To rise in his profession and to amass a substantial fortune—those are the two goals that early in life he set for himself. Never, for a moment, has he lost sight of them. He is, I my add, the sort of man who, white or colored, is destined to be successful.
He was only twelve when, grimly determined to make something of himself, he left home. He has been a bellhop, a waiter—in hotels and on board steamship pullman porter and a jack-of-all trades. The oldest of ten children, it is he, you see, who has blazed the trail for his younger brothers. For while he, himself, had neither financial help nor encouragement, he has been generous with both Dr. Otis Sweet and Henry. Not that these young men haven’t had to work hard for their education. Even after Sr. Otis Sweet graduated from his dental course, he had to work a year, in the Wabash Railroad, as a waiter, to earn enough to equip his office, but Dr. Sweet was always there, as it were, in the background. At a pinch, he could be borrowed from, and there is for both the boys the stimulating thought that what e has done they too can do.
Of the three brothers, Dr. Sweet has decidedly the best mind. He, himself, was graduated at Wilberforce, Ohio, and from there went to Howard University, where he took his M.D. degree. During the war he was in the Reserve Officers Training Camp. The obstacles a colored doctor must face surely are so obvious that they need mere mentioning to be comprehended. Take, for instance, to cite only one of them, the difficulty of securing a desirable internship in a hospital where the best surgeons operate. The foremost hospitals say very virtuously and self-righteously (and indeed often quite truly): “We have no objection to colored internes, but our patients--.”
“If I want to take a case to the City Hospital here in Detroit,” Dr. Sweet explained, “I must practically turn my patient over to someone whose work perhaps I feel is inferior to my own. If I wish to give an hour’s time weekly at any good clinic, my services are not wanted.”
He does not, understand me, say these things vindictively. Rather he speaks with bitter patience. Surging through his thoughts is justified resentment. He is a capable surgeon. Moreover, without being in the least conceited or arrogant, he knows his own worth. (I have visited his well-equipped office and Dunbar Hospital where he operates, and I have discussed him at some length with various doctors, white and colored.) He is, in short, a proud, self-respecting man of brains, with few illusions, who intends, without minimizing the obstacles in his path, to succeed in spite of them.
He was, I very much suspect, in danger of settling down to becoming just a successful doctor and nothing more. Then this trouble started. It brought him—his trial, with all its implications—in contact with intellectual people. Heretofore the doctor’s interests had run almost exclusively along scientific and racial lines. Now he met many literary folk and people who had delved into economics. He realized how many sincere broad-minded white people, as well as colored people, were interested in the race problem. Immediately after Christmas, he and Gladys went to New York, Washington, Baltimore and Chicago, in all of which towns (besides several others) the doctor spoke. (I am told he has a very pleasant platform personality.) His speeches were all made in an effort to help the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People raise a defense fund of fifty thousand dollars. This fund is to be used not only to help win the Sweet trial, but for the protection of other Negroes whose cases are now being fought by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
From the moment I began to talk with Dr. Sweet about the events that led up to the riot. I began to get an entirely new set of impressions. He is the head of the family, and, as such, feels responsible for the lives and happiness of these younger people, whose confidence in his judgement is so implicit as to amount almost to hero worship. This being true, and the situation in Detroit being what it was, it is no wonder he had grave misgivings.
Gladys Sweet is a striking woman. Do you remember the fairy tale in which a noble prince opens an orange, out of which flies a golden bird? Sipping from a crystal stream, the golden bird changes into a golden princess. Gladys might have been that princess. Her lovely skin, petal-like in texture, has much less yellow in it than the softest shade of fawn. Creamy tan, in tone it is midway between Houbigant’s fragrant brunette powder and a light grain of wheat. When she becomes interested she flushes a delicate pink. Long thick lashes fringe her warm brown eyes which reflect swiftly her every mood. Sometimes there is a hint of dimples in her checks. Her wonderful dark hair seems at first glance to be jet black, but in the sunlight it is full of auburn glints. (When loosened, it hangs well below her waist.) Ordinarily she wears it Spanish fashion, parted in the middle, and coiled loosely at the back of her neck. It lies like cloth of velvet against her smooth face. Gladys is not beautiful—there are minor defects which forbid that supreme description. But she is most unusual and interesting looking. Add to this that she is slender, graceful, finely wrought, sensitive, aloof—and you will understand why artists often ask to paint her. As graciously but none too enthusiastically she gave me her slim hand I realized that here was a woman who, for all her appealing youth (she is twenty-four) and her soft femininity, had been so chilled by the affronts life had offered her that she had quietly and proudly withdrawn into herself.
Gladys’ whole life has been spent in the North and in cities. Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, she was seven when her father brought his family (which consisted of only Gladys and her mother), to Detroit. There, in a well-paid orchestra, he earned a good livelihood. Also he gave piano lessons. The Mitchells were always in comfortable circumstances. They owned a car and a pleasant home. They respected themselves and were respected by their neighbors, all of whom, as it happened, were white. Some of them testified most valiantly in Gladys’ behalf at the first trial.) Not only were the Mitchells the only colored people in the block, but for a good many years Gladys was the only colored child in her grade. When she finished high school in Detroit she went to the Teachers’ College in that city and graduated from it. Shortly afterward she met Dr. Sweet, and in about a year (1922) married him. In less than another year they went to France.
On the French liner, they were of course treated courteously. Their stateroom was between those occupied by white people. In Paris, Dr. Sweet, whose specially is gynecology, worked under Madame Curie. (He is, as are so many doctors of the day, particularly interested in the effect of radium on chronic diseases, especially on cancer.) Later he went to Vienna, where he attended the Eiselburg Clinic. The civilized attitude of the French toward Negroes is too well known to make it necessary for me to elaborate upon it. Even so, perhaps, Gladys might have encountered petty insults from fellow countrymen sojourning abroad, but Dr. Sweet, who is considerably older (in his thirties I should judge), was always there as a buffer to protect her and make life easy and happy for her. It was only when her baby was to be born and she was rudely refused admittance to the American Hospital—to which Dr. Sweet, ironically enough, had contributed—that she was smartingly aware of the fact that she was not white. French friends, fortunately, were not so prejudices. In spite of this one unhappy incident, those days abroad were happy ones for Gladys, and the trip home (again on a French liner) was wholly pleasant. Moreover, Gladys’ whole outlook on life was broadened and modified. Naturally drawn toward all that is finest, quick to assimilate the best, full of temperament and artistic feeling, she began to develop real charm.
I first met Dr. [Otis]Sweet in his own office. Gladys took me
there and we talked while he was giving her a dental treatment. With
six people waiting in his reception room, I had not the conscious otherwise
to take up his time. He is a young man of twenty-seven, and has been
practicing for two years. Everything in his office was spick and
span and sparklingly clean. Unlike his brothers, he was educated
entirely in the South—at Florida State College, Tallahassee, and then at
Meharry University (a Medical, Dental, Pharmaceutical college). He
had in his office a quite imposing array of Little Blue Books. But
although, as I watched him work, I saw he was extremely skilful in the
use of his hands, he certainly impressed me as a happy-go-lucky sort of
chap, who would much rather go to a dance than sit sown for a quiet evening
of reading. He has a merry face, and a general care-free manner.
He belongs to Acirema Club, a colored men’s club, the 160 members of which
meet for good times. He is a great baseball fan, a Methodist
and lodge member, and Gladys says he is a very good mixer, but I found
him, agreeable as he was, quite inarticulate. “The difference,” Dr.
Ossian Sweet explained to me later, “between Henry and Otis, is the difference
between a Negro who has been educated in the North and one who has been
educated in the South.”
Thomas F. Chawke is a big man. (Positively I felt in that Detroit courtroom as if I had arrived suddenly in a land of giants!) Well proportioned with a splendid, rather long and always sleek dark head, he has keen, clear gray-blue eyes which swiftly and surely appraise every witness. As watchful of details as Arthur Garfield Hays, he has, it seems to me, considerably more fire. He showed witness after witness for the prosecution to be lying. There was a cannonading force in the way he flung but many of his battering questions. One could quite believe the often beard statement that he was "the best criminal lawyer in Michigan." And while one could not call him exactly a social-minded man, he certainly has the capacity to identify himself to a rare degree with his clients. Like Darrow he gives them not only his best services but also his entire sympathy and under standing. Thus it fell out that, while he never has been a particular champion of Negroes and (I feet quite sure) this case was to him at the beginning simply a plain murder case into which he entered in much the same spirit that he had entered dozens of other interesting lawsuits, he became, once be got into it, more and more deeply interested in all its implications; more and more concerned for the issues involved in it. His final summing up as both brilliant and dramatic. Listening to him one felt as if marching to the martial music of a band. His vigor, his activity (he takes stage freely, moves about a great deal, always stands when he is cross-examining and speaks in a full, strong, ringing voice) brought out in sharp contrast, enhancing it, the quietness and extreme simplicity of Darrow’s own more subtle method. The very headlongness of Chawke’s vitality emphasized all the repose of the older man. They made-as results were to prove -a glorious and invincible team.
[A]lways the dominating figure, throughout the entire trial, was Clarence Darrow. Tall, rugged, with broad, slightly stopped shoulders, there is about him the quality of a great, majestic ship, or some mighty oak that has weathered many a storm. I know of none else in whose face are so blended ironical wisdom, warm kindliness and austere strength. His is a magnificent forehead that proclaims a mind compact with thought, the aggressive nose of a fighter, the deep-set blue eyes of a man born to dream greatly, the firm square chin of one tenacious of his convictions. Together they have made inevitable the lines which are the scars of his many long, successful battles. Never has Clarence Darrow prosecuted a man for murder. Never has a man defended by him been hanged. He is a born protector of the misunderstood, the persecuted, and the oppressed. There are moments when his whole combative face fills with beautiful benignity.
In Detroit he was in more formal mood than when at Dayton [site of the Scopes trial]. The famous galluses were safely hidden under well-pressed vest and coat. No one caught even so much as a hint of them. Almost invariably his gray hair was neatly brushed. I never before saw him look quite so trim. He was rasped and ruffled by the persistent quibbling prevarications of prosecution witnesses-and worried constantly by the consciousness that however brilliantly he might plead for Henry there lay ever between that young man and his liberty the unalterable fact of his color, but through it all he contrived to remain his own gruff, good-humored self. I was not the only one who marveled at his patience. To a comment on his ability to sit on the sidelines and laugh he returned, "A man would go crazy if he didn't." The day on which he made his final argument, he spoke for seven solid hours! There was literally not a spare inch in the courtroom. Chairs were carried into the court enclosure and then still more chairs were brought. Except for their elevation, it was hard to tell where the jury began and ended. People all but swarmed up to the judge's bench. Everyone who could get in was determined "to hear Darrow." And what a plea it was! It lifted all who heard it to his own high peak of vision. By its flaming earnestness it tore our hearts.
On the side next to the jury were Robert M. Toms, prosecuting attorney for Wayne County....Robert M. Toms is a tall, pleasant and round-faced, blue-eyed, fair-haired, affable man about forty who makes friends easily and wants all people to like him. His manner toward Darrow, whom he warmly admires, was courteous, even deferential. Darrow, always, inclined to be paternal and friendly in his attitude toward younger, men, especially toward those whose minds seem to be partially open consistently alluded to him as “a nice fellow." It was a phrase into which he fitted snugly and one frequently applied to him.
Yet it is a fact, not to be ignored, that although, during the last twenty-two months fifty-five Negroes in Detroit (some of them taken on the flimsiest suspicion) have been murdered in cold blood by arresting officers (and this in a state which does not believe in capital. punishment) not one of these policemen has had to face trial. (One poor creature Sims, was shot while complying with, the officer's demand that he raise his hands!) And had the Sweets been white instead of colored, and their persecutors Negroes, it is not likely that Toms ever would have permitted the attacked group to be indicted. Moreover, everyone alleges that if he does not actually belong to the Klan he is entirely in sympathy with it. Certain it is, that during the last six months he has appointed three assistants of whom two (one of them a son of the local Cyclops) belongs to the order. And while he does not fail to emphasize that he also has appointed one Negro assistant, this man was at once put on the assignment desk and has never plead a case in court. A pleasant, kindly, gregarious, ambitious, but not unduly strong character, is Toms; in short, an A No. 1 second-rater.
Lester S. Moll has been in the prosecutor's office as an assistant for some years. Tall, very dark, good looking, arrogant, he is inclined, in court at least, to be somewhat surly and belligerent in manner. For reasons which I was not able to ascertain he showed in many unmistakable ways that he felt himself vastly superior to Negroes. Quite obviously he entertained for Dr. Sweet (whom he slurringly referred to as "quasi-intelligent") a definite, although by no means vindictive, personal dislike. It is a dislike which the colored people of Detroit thoroughly reciprocate. (I didn't hear a single Negro say a good word for Moll.) Tight-minded is the word that most accurately describes him. He belongs to the vast army of those who “have nothing against Negroes but believe that they should keep in their place”--which rubberstamp should immediately enable you to comprehend his entire attitude. Not a mean man, mind you, nor a cruel one, nor one to take an unfair advantage. On the contrary. But he is saturated with deep prejudices and quite convinced that had the Sweets not "shot too soon” the officers, could, and would, have protected them. On the whole, I really think the case to him was chiefly one of routine business.
But in spite of the intensity of feeling which often, stirred the people in the courtroom (and make no mistake about it, the tension often, held one breathless), few cases of such importance have been tried more quietly. There never was any rude jangling between lawyers, never any noisy demonstrations from the spectators, never anything but courtesy from sergeants keeping order. It took its tone, the atmosphere of that courtroom, from the man who presided over it--Judge Murphy.
Frank Murphy was elected two years ago on a non-partisan ticket by one of the largest majorities ever cast for a judge in Detroit. Recently appointed to the national commission for the study of crime and its correction, he is, at thirty-three, the youngest jurist in a court of record in Michigan. He comes from a long line of Irish idealists. His father, when a lad, was imprisoned and all but put to death for the cause in which he believed, and his grandfather lost his life in one of the Irish revolutions. The judge's mother, Irish too, a woman of rare tact and feeling, implanted in her sons her own tenderness and tolerance for all humanity. Brought up in the little town of Harbor Beach, but always surrounded by people of broad sympathies, Murphy was educated in turn at Ann Arbor, Harvard, Lincoln's Inn (London), and Trinity College (Dublin), where he was an open sympathizer with the Sinn Feiners. A week after this country entered the World War he enlisted and soon became a captain. Followed the inevitable disillusionment. While still abroad he was appointed chief assistant district attorney and came home to fill that office. It was in this capacity (in which he never lost a case) that he secured the conviction of Grant Hugh Brown and his associates in the $30,000,000 war graft in which they were involved. Also, he has been a teacher in the Law College of Detroit. It is an open secret that he turned down a most tempting offer as counsel for one of the largest motor car corporations in Detroit in order to accept this judgeship with its much more modest salary but wider opportunities.
In appearance he is tall, very good looking, inclined toward slenderness, with a long beautifully modeled head, thick curly, auburn, hair and contemplative blue eyes. Irish eyes they are, full of dreams. For brilliant as his rise in his chosen profession has been., Frank Murphy, has the brooding imaginative temperament of an artist. And although his excellent features and splendid physique unquestionably convey an impression of strength, it is none the less of his finely tempered sensibility that one is most conscious. His voice is so low, even in ordinary conversation, that if it were not exceptionally well placed it sometimes would be difficult to hear him. In the midst of the most strained arguments between counsel he scarcely raised it. Yet every word he spoke carried to the farthest corner of the crowded courtroom. And I was told by more than one person that when he addressed an audience of 7,000 people he could be heard, just as distinctly. He has both quality and presence. Dignity is an integral part of his nature and upon occasion be can be stern enough, but his most usual mood is one of tranquil thoughtfulness. When he smiles his face has the sparkle of a quiet river in the sunlight.
Almost the first question he asked me when I met him was if I knew where he could get a copy of the British Labor Party's platform. And as he discussed the new Alien Registration bill now before Congress, and commented upon the opportunities it offered for further encroachment upon the personal liberties of an already oppressed group in our country, his tone was packed with smoldering indignation. By temperament and training his resentment of intolerance is both deep and spontaneous. Moreover he has, this young judge, real courage. Daily he received letters upbraiding him for his open-minded attitude in this trial, warning him of what it might do to his political future, but imperturbably he ignored them. It is significant that never was any question raised as to the soundness of his rulings. His fairness was unimpeachable. It was a common occurrence to see all for men--Darrow, Chawke, Toms and Moll--nod their heads as he stated why a motion was “denied,” “objection sustained,” or counsel might “have an answer.”
And although it must surely have cost him an effort to do so, both in the first and second trial, he denied the defense’s motion for a directed verdict. He is, in short, a great-hearted, able man of rare understanding. Few people in Detroit are held in more affectionate esteem by all sorts and classes. Next to Darrow he was easily the most forceful and interesting character in the courtroom.