The Clarence Darrow Commemorative Committee will host its annual outdoor tribute to Darrow Saturday, March 13, 10 a.m. at the Darrow bridge in Jackson Park, behind the Museum of Science & Industry. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, there will be no indoor program this year, and social distancing and masks will be required outdoors.
For more than five decades, first friends, relatives and people who felt very connected to Darrow through their work - and now descendants, fans, and people committed to social justice causes - have been gathering on the anniversary of Darrow's death to summon his spirit, first by throwing a wreath into the water at the bridge, and then by hosting a discussion on a topic still relevant today that Darrow was passionate about.
This year's topic is the trials of Ossian Sweet (1895-1960) and his allies. Sweet was an African-American physician in Detroit. He was charged with murder in 1925 after he and his friends used armed self-defense against a hostile white crowd protesting after the Sweets moved into the neighborhood. One white man was killed, another wounded. Sweet, his wife, two brothers and seven others were charged with murder.
The first trial ended in a mistrial. The court accepted the defense motion to sever the defendants, and the prosecutor decided to first try Henry Sweet, Ossian's youngest brother. After the all-white jury acquitted Henry, the prosecutor declined to prosecute the rest of the defendants. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People hired Darrow to assist in the defense. Here's one part of his closing argument: "I insist that there is nothing but prejudice in this case; that if it was reversed and eleven white men had shot and killed a black while protecting their home and their lives against a bob of blacks, nobody would have dreamed of having them indicted. I know what I am talking about, and so do you."
At the March 13 outdoor event, Nina Barrett, author of The Leopold and Loeb Files, will read excerpts of Darrow's arguments.
Because of the pandemic, longer excerpts from Darrow's final argument will be performed and recorded separately by actor Sheri Flanders, and posted on darrowbridge.org after the March 13th event. Sheri is an actor based in Chicago, who teaches improv and musical improv at the Second City training Center, and is an alumnae of the Infinite Sundaes, Second City's Musical House Ensemble who wrote and staged the satirical musical A Brother's Grimm. She has performed on both stage and screen; her experience includes improv, stand up, musical theater, and Shakespeare.
The Darrow Bridge is behind the Museum of Science and Industry: Driving south on Lake Shore Drive, pass the light at 57th Drive and turn right at the next light [Science Drive]. You will come almost immediately to Columbia Drive. If you turn left and follow Columbia Drive there is parking near the bridge.