Newnan-Fairburn Alumni Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.

#BHM – Dr. Ossian Hart Sweet, Jr.

In recognition of Black History Month, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. continues to recognize a few of its member’s “Achievements in Every Field of Human Endeavor”

#KappaHistoryIsBlackHistory

The story of Dr. Sweet is a tragic American one from 1920s Detroit that touches civil rights, property rights, equal protection of citizens by law enforcement, mob bigotry, armed defense of one’s property, family and even the Second Amendment of U.S Constitution.

Ossian Hart Sweet, Jr. was a native of Orlando, FL, born October 30, 1895. His parents sent Sweet from Florida to the North in hopes of providing for him greater opportunities for education. A thirteen-year-old Sweet arrived in Xenia, OH to attend school. He attended historic Wilberforce University earning a degree in 1917. During his time as a college student, Sweet became a member of the Wilberforce University chapter, the Delta of Kappa Alpha Psi in 1915 as a charter initiate. He later became an early member of the fraternity’s Detroit (MI) Alumni Chapter.

Rejected by the U.S. Army due to poor eyesight, Sweet entered medical school at Howard University in Washington, DC earning a M.D. degree in 1921. After medical school, Sweet arrived in Detroit, MI to set up medical practice and where he would live for the remainder of his life. Operating his practice from a pharmacy, Dr. Sweet served the needs a burgeoning black population in Detroit. He joined the physician staff at historic Dunbar Hospital, the first hospital in Detroit serving the African-American community. He worked as a medical examiner for Liberty Life Insurance. Good fortune continued for Dr. Sweet as he met and subsequently married the former Gladys Mitchell in 1922.

Mrs. Sweet accompanied her husband to Europe where Dr. Sweet studied in various countries. Upon the couple’s return to Detroit with their newborn daughter in 1924, the couple purchased a home, 2905 Garland, located on the city’s lower east side. The home was located in a working class white neighborhood. In the racially charged Detroit of the 1920s, the Sweet family’s occupancy of their home was met with violent mob protests outside the home and in the surrounding neighborhood.

In anticipation of potential violence and vandalism, the Detroit police were present near the home on the day the Sweet family moved into their home but did nothing to protect the family. Large crowds of white protesters surrounded the home each night frightening the young family and damaging their property with thrown stones at the home. In an effort to defend his family and property, Sweet distributed guns to his friends and supporters that came to the house to support the family. During a volley of stones from the growing racist mob, shots from the second floor of the home were fired; killing one protester and injuring another. Detroit Police arrested all occupants of the home including Dr. and Mrs. Sweet.

The national NAACP provided the defendants with access to legal representation. The legendary defense attorney Clarence Darrow, fresh off the famous Scopes trial, defended Dr. Sweet and the others of murder charges. Darrow’s persuasive legal arguments efforts left an all-white, all-male jury unable to reach a verdict, after deliberating for almost two days. In 1926, prosecutors moved for a retrial and Darrow was successful in winning an acquittal for the one defendant, Dr. Sweet’s brother, Henry. As a result of the acquittal, charges against the other defendants summarily dropped.

Despite the legal victory, Dr. Sweet’s life and family was irrevocably harmed. Dr. Sweet and his family never moved back to their house on Garland. Mrs. Sweet contracted tuberculosis while in jail and passed the disease on to their infant daughter, who died soon after contracting TB. In 1928, Mrs. Sweet subsequently also died from TB.

Dr. Sweet bought small Detroit drugstore and a number of small hospitals in subsequent years. He unsuccessfully ran for presidency of the Detroit branch of NAACP. In his later years, he remarried twice with both marriages ended in divorce. In 1958, He sold the house on Garland. In 1960, Dr. Ossian H. Sweet sadly took his own life ultimately a victim of valiantly defending his family and home against racially charged mob.

In 1975, the state of Michigan designated Ossian H. Sweet House at 2905 Garland as a historical site and in 1985 the home was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Kevin Scott

Grand Historian

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *