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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

"Put Yourselves in Their Place"

Clarence Darrow in 1922

"Now, let us look at these fellows. Here were eleven coloured men, penned up in the house. Put yourselves in their place. Make yourselves coloured for a little while. It won’t hurt, you can wash it off later. They can’t, but you can; just make yourself black men for a little while; long enough, gentlemen, to judge them, and before any of you would want to be judged, you would want your juror to put himself in your place. That is all I ask in this case, gentlemen. They were black, and they knew the history of the black. 

Our friend makes fun of Dr. Sweet and Henry Sweet talking these things all over in the short space of two months. Well, gentlemen, let me tell you something, that isn’t evidence. This is just theory. This is just theory, and nothing else. I should imagine that the only thing that two or three coloured people talk of when they get together is race. I imagine that they can’t rub colour off their face or rub it out of their minds. I imagine that is it with them always. I imagine that the stories of lynching’s, the stories of murders, the stories of oppression is a topic of constant conversation. I imagine that everything that appears in the newspapers on this subject is carried from one to another until every man knows what others know, upon the topic which is the most important of all to their lives. 

What do you think about it? Suppose you were black. Do you think you would forget it even in your dreams? Or would you have black dreams? Suppose you had to watch every point of contact with your neighbour and remember your colour, and you knew your children were growing up under this handicap. Do you suppose you would think of anything else? 

Well, gentlemen, I imagine that a coloured man would think of that before he would think of where he could get bootleg whiskey, even. Do you suppose this boy coming in here didn’t know all about the conditions, and did not learn all about them? Did he not know about Detroit? Do you suppose he hadn’t read the story of his race? He is intelligent. He goes to school. He would have been a graduate now, except for this long hesitation, when he is waiting to see whether he goes back to college or goes to jail. Do you suppose that black students and teachers are discussing it?

***Extract from Clarence Darrow's closing defence speech in the Henry Sweet trial, who was defending a man charged with the murder of another when a mob had surrounded his house. Henry Sweet was an African American and the year was 1926