Little Known Black History Fact: Dr. Ossain Sweet

Dr. Ossain Sweet made headlines in the summer of 1925 after he successfully defended his home from an angry white mob in Detroit. The physician and ten of his brothers and friends all faced a pair of trials for killing a mob member but were acquitted by an all-white jury.

Sweet was born on October 30, 1895 in Bartow, Florida. The son of a former slave witnessed the atrocity of a Black man being lynched when he was five, which continued to impact him as he grew older. Sweet left home at 13 and headed north to avoid Jim Crow and where opportunities were more prevalent. He eventually entered Wilberforce University and earned his bachelor’s at 25.

The next chapter in Sweet’s education was his entry into Howard University, where he earned his medical degree. He was inspired by W.E.D. Du Bois’ “Talented 10th” theory and hoped to use his education to break through the barriers of racism and segregation. With little money, Sweet moved to Detroit’s Black Bottom neighborhood in 1921 and tried to establish himself as a physician.

Sweet was able to start a small practice serving Black Bottom’s poor Black residents, and studied abroad in Europe with his wife, Gladys, in tow. He returned to the states in 1924 and worked for Dunbar Hospital. Saving his money and looking to create a good life for his family, he purchased the brand new home despite racial tensions in the area.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Andrew Jameson

The mob descended upon his residence on September 9 throwing rocks and other objects. Someone from Sweet’s side fired a shot outside a second-floor window that killed one person and wounded another. The Sweets were arrested, including Gladys, and a trial  ensued. The NAACP took up the case, stating that Sweet had a right to defend his home from violence. The first trial ended when the jury couldn’t come to a verdict. The second trial focused on the case of Sweet’s brother Henry who was ultimately acquitted.

The Sweets faced tragedy shortly afterwards. Gladys and their daughter, Iva, died in 1926 after contracting tuberculosis. It was speculated that Sweet’s wife contracted the disease while jailed and awaiting trial. The family never actually lived in the home and after struggling with financial and health woes, Sweet ended his own life in March 1960.

Today, the Ossain H. Sweet Home is on the National Register of Historic Places.

PHOTO: Above, as indicated, Public Domain

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