Giovan to portray Judge Murphy in civil rights drama

On Jan. 14, The Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History will present "The Great Michigan Read: Arc of Justice and The Ossian Sweet Trials." Former Chief Judge of the Wayne County Circuit Court William J. Giovan will portray Judge Frank Murphy in "Dr. Sweet's Tinderbox," the dramatic re-enactment of the second Sweet trial that is one of the main features of this historic event. "Dr. Sweet's Tinderbox" is based upon the National Book Award-winning "Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age" by Dr. Kevin Boyle.

"Arc of Justice" tells the story of Dr. Ossian Sweet, an African-American physician who moved his family to an all-white neighborhood in 1920s Detroit. When a white mob gathered to force Sweet back to the ghetto, Sweet gathered friends and acquaintances for protection. The confrontation ended in a murder indictment when a white man was killed. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People took charge and ensured that famed attorney Clarence Darrow defended Sweet in a sensational trial that ended in Sweet's acquittal. The trial was presided over by Judge Frank Murphy, who later became Michigan's governor. President Franklin Roosevelt eventually appointed Murphy to The United States Supreme Court.

Giovan is looking forward to performing in "Dr. Sweet's Tinderbox."

"As a lawyer, amateur actor, and former Recorder's Court Judge myself, I couldn't have asked for a more awesome role to portray than that of Frank Murphy, one of the legal and civil rights giants of Detroit and the nation," says Giovan. He has been interested in acting and has performed off and on since his DeLaSalle High School days and is still a member of Grosse Pointe Theatre.

In 2010 Giovan completed his final year on the bench as chief judge of the Wayne County Circuit Court, where he served for 36 years. He first attained judicial office in 1966 when he was elected to a short-term vacancy as Recorder and Judge of the Recorder's Court. During that time he was ex officio a member of the City of Detroit Election Commission. From 1970 through 1973 he sat by appointment at monthly intervals as a judge of Recorder's Court. Judge Giovan also served on the Common Pleas of Detroit from 1973 to 1976.

"Dr. Sweet's Tinderbox" was written and directed by retired educator, playwright and T.V. host Brenda Perryman. Perryman had the honor to meet and discuss "Arc of Justice" with Kevin Boyle a couple of months ago. He said he was happy she tackled the trial.

"There was so much information to compile into little over an hour, but I think the audience will get the entire idea," says Perryman. "It's also wonderful when you're working with great actors including Judge Giovan."

The Museum's programming Jan. 14 will include: "Dr. Sweet's Tinderbox;" a short literary arts interpretation by InsideOut; a panel discussion with law professionals Jocelyn Benson, Denise Page Hood, Dr. Irshad Altheimer; and a Q&A regarding historic and contemporary racial equality issues involving themes drawn from "Arc of Justice." Special guests will be students of the Detroit Urban Debate League.

The free event, "Arc of Justice and The Ossian Sweet Trials," starts at 1 p.m. on January 14 and will be held in the GM Theatre of the Charles Wright Museum of African-American History.

Published: Tue, Jan 3, 2012