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Preservation of Ossian Sweet home underway

The home of the Detroit civil rights pioneer is being turned into a museum thanks to a $500,000 grant

A green plaque with gold lettering stands in the yard of a two-story brick home. The heading of the plaque reads “Ossian Sweet House.”
A Michigan Historical Marker outside the Ossian Sweet House on Detroit’s east side

Nearly 100 years after Dr. Ossian Sweet defended his home from a white mob, it’s set to be preserved for hopefully another century.

In August last year, the city of Detroit was awarded $500,000 from the African-American Civil Rights program of the Historic Preservation Fund, the National Park Service, and the Department of the Interior to turn it into a permanent visitation site.

Now, restoration work is underway on the home at 2905 Garland Street, as well as two across the street, on Detroit’s east side. According to the Detroit News, local restoration artists are upgrading essential features of the home—woodwork, painting, electrical and plumbing systems—as well as prepping the house for historic preservation.

Eventually, the basement will be turned into an interactive museum with information about the 1925 attack and trial.

Dan Baxter, who grew up in the house and owns it now, has been spearheading the preservation effort. Bridge Magazine reports that the city is trying to raise another $500,000 to complete the work.

A grand opening is already planned for September 9, 2020 on the 95th anniversary of the attack on the home.

In 1925, when Sweet and his family moved into the home, black families were only allowed to live in certain neighborhoods in Detroit due to restrictive housing covenants. White residents often formed “Neighborhood Improvement Associations” in order to drive black residents out of their homes. As we wrote of the home when the grant was first announced...

An angry mob of white residents gathered in front of Sweet’s house, throwing rocks and bricks while the family hid inside. Fearing the safety of the home and the family, Sweet’s brother fired into the crowd, killing one and injuring another.

The trial that followed made history by bringing attention to housing discrimination across the country. Sweet’s family, supported by the NAACP, was represented by attorney Clarence Darrow, who argued that people had a right to protect their property. The first trial resulted in a hung jury, but Sweet was acquitted in a second trial, a great accomplishment for the lawyer and a historic verdict for the black community.

The Sweet home has been on the Michigan Register of Historic Places since 1975 and a Michigan Historical Marker has been there since 2000.