The city of Detroit is asking developers to submit bids to rehab the Ossian Sweet House on the city’s east side – a Civil Rights landmark that commemorates one of the city’s most infamous racial hate attacks.
Dr. Ossian Sweet, a Black doctor, moved his family into a house on the corner of Charlevoix and Garland in 1925, when that area of the city was all white. Soon after moving in, a white mob of about 400 gathered on the corner to intimidate Sweet and his family. As the Sweets tried to defend the shots were fired at the mob from inside the house; one white man was killed and another was injured.
In 1926, Sweet and the other people inside the house were aquitted of murder in a landmark court case that paved the way for many advances in equal criminal justice for African Americans.
In 2018, The African American Civil Rights program of the Historic Preservation Fund at the National Park Service gave the city a $500,000 grant to rehab and repair Sweet’s house, which has fallen into disrepair. There are several cosmetic repairs needed outside and inside the home, which was named to the National Registry of Historic Places by the U.S. Department of the Interior in 1985.
Detroit’s Housing and Revitalization Department is looking for developers and contractors who are interested in rehabbing the house.
D’marco Ansari, a development specialist with the Public Private Partnership team with the Housing and Revitalization Department, said the Sweet house is an important piece of civil rights history.
“(The Sweet case) discusses everything that we’re dealing with now, the way our cities are built. If you’re talking about redlining and if you’re talking about African Americans not being able to get mortgages, where you live and why you live in those neighborhoods is really based on what happened here and the Dr. Sweet house was really the peak and the climax of that,” Ansari said.
Ansari said the city is prioritizing local and minority contractors during this bidding process. He also said a lot of people living in the city have lost sight of the struggles many Black people went through to own homes.
“That’s what we’re hoping to accomplish by renovating this house and bringing it back to its glory, to be able to have these kinds of discussions with people and let them know what was and is really going on,” he said.
Ansari said there have been “multiple discussions” around converting the house and some of the houses nearby to a museum space, but he said those potential plans are still in the early stages right now.
Daniel Baxter, an election administrator with the Detroit Department of Elections, is the current owner of the house. Baxter said when looking at what Dr. Sweet did, the best word that comes to mind is “trailblazer.”
“Dr. Sweet and his case are so significant because it was the first time in American history where it was declared a Black man has a right to protect his home,” Baxter said.
Baxter, whose family bought the house in 1958, said he loves telling the story of Dr. Sweet and what happened at the house to journalists, tourists and educators.
“I was one of the individuals along with my mom, my dad, my sisters and my brothers and my cousins, who were direct beneficiaries of what Dr. Sweet did, so I stand on his shoulders every time I share his story,” Baxter said.
Interested developers should call the Associate Director for the Office of Contracting and Procurement Toni Limmitt at 313-378-8362.