Written by Daniel Hazard
The UCC's Amistad Chapel at the Church House in downtown Cleveland rocked Wednesday afternoon (Feb. 15) with incredible jazz and powerful words.
The Hon. Denise Page Hood, U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Michigan, delivered a powerful sermon on "law scripture passages" that doubled as a history lesson for some, while the moving sounds of the Tri-C Jazz Quartet punctuated the moments.
Citing Micah's "What does the Lord require of you?" and Amos' passage, "Let justice roll down like a river," Hood told a story of visiting South Africa, but being unable to enjoy the scenic beauty of Johannesburg and Cape Town because all she could think about was the story of Dr. Ossian Sweet.
Sweet, a prominent African-American physician in the Detroit of the 1920s, bought a home in a decent –– and white –– section of town in order to raise his daughter in good surroundings. After a white mob descended on the home, someone in the house fired warning shots in the air. A white man fell dead, and the entire Sweet family was arrested.
The NAACP retained Clarence Darrow to defend the Sweets. Although all of the family members were later acquitted, the toll was significant. Sweet's wife and child died from tuberculosis most likely contracted in jail. Later in life, after battling illness himself, Sweet took his own life.
As Hood recounted the story, she reflected on how far we, as a nation, had come since the 1920s.
"But how far we still have to go," she remarked. "Many of us still live in separate neighborhoods and the men who come into my court are mostly black" through lack of opportunity or hope.
Juxtaposing her legal vantage point with her years of volunteer service in the UCC, Hood said, "We all must do more to help people feel they will be able to fulfill the promise [of the Declaration of Independence's] ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.'"
We must not just live our lives, she said, we also must save the Constitution for our children.
"My job is to work toward Amos –– justice flows down like a river," Hood said. "To do that, I must keep telling the story of Ossian Sweet."
Throughout the worship service, one in a series of Wednesday services in honor of Black History Month, the Tri-C Jazz Quartet featured music of four African-American composers: Tadd Damereon ("Our Delight"), Sonny Rollins ("Sonny Moon for Two"), Duke Ellington ("In a Sentimental Mood") and Nat Adderly ("Work Song").
The United Church of Christ, with national offices in Cleveland, was formed by the 1957 union of the Congregational Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Church.
The Hon. Denise Page Hood was born in Columbus, Ohio. She earned her B.A. degree from Yale in 1974 and her J.D. degree from Columbia Law School in 1977. During February, the United Church of Christ's weekly noon worship services celebrate Black History Month.
On Tuesday, Feb. 21, prominent African- American art historian David Driskell will be in the pulpit. The Wednesday, Feb. 29, service will feature the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, former senior minister of Trinity UCC in Chicago.