Ossian H. Sweet House

The Ossian H. Sweet House is a private house located at 2905 Garland Street in Detroit, Michigan. It is notable as the home of black physician Ossian Sweet and is the location of his self defense in 1925 of his then newly purchased home in a predominantly white neighborhood against a mob attempting to force him out of the neighborhood. The house was designated a Michigan State Historic Site in 1975 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.

Ossian Sweet

Ossian Sweet was born in Florida and received a medical degree from Howard University. He practiced medicine briefly in Detroit, then continued his medical studies in Vienna and Paris before returning to Detroit in 1924 to accept a position at Dunbar Hospital. He began saving money for a home, and by the spring of the next year had saved $3500. Sweet used the $3500 as a down payment on a $18,500 house located on Garland Street in east Detroit.

The Ossian Sweet House

The house Sweet purchased is a 1 1⁄2-story brick house, built in 1919, and is typical of many homes in working-class Detroit neighborhoods. It is a Bungalow-style structure with a full basement, an open porch on the first floor, and an enclosed sun porch on the south side. The second story is covered with brown shingling, and atop the house is a simple gable roof with a central dormer. The house is enclosed by an unpainted silver aluminum fence.

The house is located on the corner of Garland and Charlevoix, in what was at the time an all-white neighborhood. Sweet chose a home in an all-white neighborhood because housing options in black neighborhoods were in general substandard, and he wanted better for his wife and daughter.

September 1925

Ossian Sweet and his wife, Gladys, moved into the house on September 8, 1925. A group of neighbors in the community, aware of Sweet's imminent arrival, had vowed to keep blacks out of the neighborhood, stating that they intended to maintain "the present high standards of the neighborhood." Sweet knew of the neighbors' antipathy (telling his brother that he was "prepared to die like a man"), and arranged for some friends and relatives to stay with him for a few days. He also brought along guns and ammunition.

The neighborhood was tense, and groups of people gathered outside Sweet's home. The Detroit Police, sensing a grave situation, posted officers at the scene day and night. The following day, September 9, Sweet and his friends went to work. When they returned, the crowd had grown into a mob, throwing rocks and bottles. A Detroit News reporter, Philip A. Adler, later testified that the mob consisted of "400 and 500" people, throwing stones that hit the house "like hail." This lasted until around 10pm, when shots rang out from the second-floor window, killing one of the men in the crowd and wounding another. The police arrested all the occupants of the house, charging each with murder.


The NAACP promised to help the defense, and brought in Clarence Darrow as chief counsel. He was assisted by Arthur Garfield Hays and Walter M. Nelson. Frank Murphy was the presiding judge. The jury consisted of twelve white men. Despite this, Darrow built an impressive case arguing self-defense, and the case ended in a hung jury. The prosecution retried a single defendant, Ossian's brother Henry, but the second trial ended in an acquittal. The verdict in this case was not guilty, and no further effort was made to prosecute Ossian Sweet or the other defendants.

After the trials, Ossian Sweet rented the home on Garland to a white couple until 1930, when he moved back into the house. However, both his wife and two-year-old daughter Iva died of tuberculosis in 1926. Sweet remarried twice, but divorced each time. In 1946, he sold the house, moving into the flat above a pharmacy he owned. In 1960, Sweet took his own life.

A State of Michigan historical marker stands in front of the house at 2905 Garland.

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