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Devil In The Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America [Hardcover]

Gilbert King
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Book Description

Feb. 27 2012

Devil in the Grove, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction, is a gripping true story of racism, murder, rape, and the law. It brings to light one of the most dramatic court cases in American history, and offers a rare and revealing portrait of Thurgood Marshall that the world has never seen before.

As Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns did for the story of America’s black migration, Gilbert King’s Devil in the Grove does for this great untold story of American legal history, a dangerous and uncertain case from the days immediately before Brown v. Board of Education in which the young civil rights attorney Marshall risked his life to defend a boy slated for the electric chair—saving him, against all odds, from being sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit.


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Review

“Superb.” (Junot Diaz, author of This Is How You Lose Her)

“A powerful and well-told drama of Southern injustice.” (The Chicago Tribune)

“This story about four young black men who were accused of the rape of a white woman in Lake County, Fla., in 1949 — and what the local sheriff and his cronies, who were itching for a lynching, got away with — is a must-read, cannot-put-down history.” (Thomas Friedman, New York Times)

Devil in the Grove is a compelling look at the case that forged Thurgood Marshall’s perception of himself as a crusader for civil rights. . . . King’s style [is] at once suspenseful and historically meticulous” (Christian Science Monitor)

“Recreates an important yet overlooked moment in American history with a chilling, atmospheric narrative that reads more like a Southern Gothic novel than a work of history.” (Salon)

“A taut, intensely readable narrative.” (Boston Globe)

“The story’s drama and pathos make it a page-turner, but King’s attention to detail, fresh material, and evenhanded treatment of the villains make it a worthy contribution to the history of the period, while offering valuable insight into Marshall’s work and life.” (Publishers Weekly)

“A thoroughgoing study of one of the most important civil-rights cases argued by Thurgood Marshall in dismantling Jim Crow strictures. . . . Deeply researched and superbly composed.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))

“A compelling chronicle.” (Booklist)

“Gripping. . . . Lively and multidimensional.” (Dallas Morning News)

“The tragic Groveland saga -- with its Faulknerian echoes of racial injustice spinning around an accusation of rape -- comes astonishingly alive in Gilbert King’s narrative. It is both heartbreaking and unforgettable.” (Wil Haygood, author of King of the Cats: The Life and Times of Adam Clayton Powell Jr.)

“In the terrifying story of the Groveland boys Gilbert King recreates an extraordinary moment in America’s long, hard struggle for racial justice. Devil in the Grove is a harrowing, haunting, utterly mesmerizing book.” (Kevin Boyle, author of Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age)

“Gilbert King’s gut-wrenching, and captivating, narrative is civil rights literature at its best--meticulously researched, brilliantly written, and singularly focused on equal justice for all.” (Michael G. Long, author of Marshalling Justice: The Early Civil Rights Letters of Thurgood Marshall)

“This is a haunting and compelling story, one of many in the campaign for racial justice. . . . This book is important because it is disturbing. And in that regard we cannot walk away from the story it tells.” (Phyllis Vine, author of One Man's Castle)

“Gilbert King has done a remarkable job of weaving together history, sociology, law and detective work of his own, to reveal facts that even I, one of the defense counsel in the case, had not been aware of until now.” (Jack Greenberg, Alphonse Fletcher Professor of Law, Columbia University, former Director-Counsel, NAACP Legal Defense Fund.)

“[An] excellent book on a little known and horrifying incident in which four young black men were rounded up and accused of raping a white woman, readers cannot help but be awed by the bravery of those who took a stand in the late 1940s and early 1950s.” (San Francisco Chronicle)

“Its rich case history captures the beginning of the end of the most extreme forms of racism. . . . Very few books combine this depth of research and narrative power about a subject of such pivotal significance.” (Ira Katznelson, author of When Affirmative Action Was White and a former president of the American Political Science Association)

From the Back Cover

Devil in the Grove is the winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction.

Arguably the most important American lawyer of the twentieth century, Thurgood Marshall was on the verge of bringing the landmark suit Brown v. Board of Education before the U.S. Supreme Court when he became embroiled in an explosive and deadly case that threatened to change the course of the civil rights movement and cost him his life.

In 1949, Florida’s orange industry was booming, and citrus barons got rich on the backs of cheap Jim Crow labor. To maintain order and profits, they turned to Willis V. McCall, a violent sheriff who ruled Lake County with murderous resolve. When a white seventeen-year-old Groveland girl cried rape, McCall was fast on the trail of four young blacks who dared to envision a future for themselves beyond the citrus groves. By day’s end, the Ku Klux Klan had rolled into town, burning the homes of blacks to the ground and chasing hundreds into the swamps, hell-bent on lynching the young men who came to be known as “the Groveland Boys.”

And so began the chain of events that would bring Thurgood Marshall, the man known as “Mr. Civil Rights,” into the deadly fray. Associates thought it was suicidal for him to wade into the “Florida Terror” at a time when he was irreplaceable to the burgeoning civil rights movement, but the lawyer would not shrink from the fight—not after the Klan had murdered one of Marshall’s NAACP associates involved with the case and Marshall had endured continual threats that he would be next.

Drawing on a wealth of never-before-published material, including the FBI’s unredacted Groveland case files, as well as unprecedented access to the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund files, King shines new light on this remarkable civil rights crusader, setting his rich and driving narrative against the heroic backdrop of a case that U.S. Supreme Court justice Robert Jackson decried as “one of the best examples of one of the worst menaces to American justice.”


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5.0 out of 5 stars One word: Wow! Jan. 17 2014
Format:Hardcover
When we think of America's southern states where lynching and other racial injustices occurred, few people think of Florida. Somehow, in spite of damning statistics, Florida has escaped much of the notoriety that has haunted states like Alabama or Mississippi. And yet, the flavour of white supremacy that flourished in Florida in the 20th-century was particularly brutal and extensive.

This book by Gilbert King is fantastic, an important and engaging window into the fight for justice in Groveland. I suppose you could call it historical non-fiction--with a bite!

The first book I read by King was The Execution of Willie Francis, the story of a black man in Louisiana who went to the electric chair twice. After finishing that book, I was already convinced of Gilbert King's genius. He writes non-fiction in a fresh, compelling way. So, when I eagerly picked up Devil in the Grove, I was initially confident I'd like it. However, as I began to read it, I started to wonder whether it might disappoint me.

It did take over half of this book convince me that Gilbert King has one-upped The Execution of Willie Francis--which, to be fair, is quite a tall task. The book won me over. King has produced a rip-roaring narrative, loaded with dramatic moments, and yet, it is conducted with the rigour of steady historical method. Not only does it move your emotions (it made me angry, outraged, sad, and I even laughed at a few points), but it is also highly informative and conveys an incredible amount of detail.

The book is centered on the efforts of NAACP lawyer Thurgood Marshall to exonerate four boys accused of rape, or at least spare them from execution. The "Good Ol' Boys" network was amazingly influential among law enforcement, judges, jury, and the general citizenry.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing book about and amazing man. Dec 3 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book is a real eye opener. It is hard to believe the atrocities being committed against blacks in Florida and elsewhere described in this book occurred only 50-70 years ago. Thurgood Marshall was a special man to fight these cases in stacked courts and still maintain his composure. America, read this book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Best book I've read in years Sept. 2 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
An incredible read. The story can hold its own with any novel. Profoundly shattering. Brilliantly written. Thurgood Marshall was a giant of a man.
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Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  380 reviews
78 of 81 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jam packed with truth Aug. 7 2012
By Dienne - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I don't often use the phrase "tour de force", but if it isn't applicable to this book, I don't know when it would be. Gilbert King has delivered a solid, in depth, thoroughly researched tome on not only one of the most brutal (although, sadly, little known) civil rights cases in American history, but also a thorough survey on the state of race relations in the American South in the late 1940s and early 1950s. For anyone who has ever wondered exactly what the "Southern Way of Life" is, you need look no further than this hate-fueled tale of widespread murder and mayhem.

In a surprisingly slim, albeit dense, 360 pages (of text, plus notes, etc.), King manages to paint a rich, detailed, sickening and enraging picture of Southern "justice" in the Sunshine State. The unsupported word of a white woman (girl, really, whom few really believe) and that of her drunken on-again, off-again husband launch a series of events that leave two young black men dead - one hunted like a dog, the other shot in cold blood - along with two more wrongfully jailed, one on death row. Along the way we witness the racial intimidation and violence of the KKK, the death by firebombing of civil rights leader Harry T. Moore, and the slow turning of the wheels of justice in the nation's highest court. Also along the way we meet the prosecutor, Jesse Hunter, who comes to believe in the innocence of the "Groveland Boys", yet who prosecutes them anyway; the born and bred Southern journalist Mabel Norris Reese whose slow change of heart gets her labeled a "pinko"; and the Southern sheriff in charge of it all, Willis McCall.

But most of all we meet the men who stood up and dared to fight back, sacrificing family, health and safety to do so - Charles Hamilton Houston, Franklin Williams, and main character future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Gilbert does not shy away from these men's faults; they had their fair share of internal squabbles and personality conflicts, and Marshall at least was a hard-drinker who wasn't exactly faithful in marriage. Nevertheless, despite not being saints, these men put it all on the line and they, among many other civil rights crusaders, deserve the lion's share of the credit for the advances in justice and equality. As head of the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund, Marshall was involved in many facets of civil rights law, from criminal cases involving wrongfully accused blacks to segregation cases at schools and universities, to his most famous case (or, really, collection of cases), Brown v. the Board of Education. But the Groveland case, little know though it is, ,was probably Marshall's most formative case, and the one he took most personally.

If you like epic tales of good vs. evil, this is your book. If you like edge of your seat thrillers, this is your book. If you like stories with genuine, three-dimensional characters, this is your book. (Note: I would say "believable characters", but Sheriff McCall, his henchmen and supporters are so wildly extreme that, were they characters in a fiction book, they would be deemed unbelievable.) You will bite your fingernails to the nub worrying for the Groveland Boys and cheering for Marshall, his team of lawyers and other sympathizers as they risk their lives in the hostile territory south of the South. You'll witness false accusations, evidence tampering, forced confessions, threats of and actual violence, jury stacking, witness tampering, and nearly every form of legal malpractice in the single-minded goal of protecting the "Flower of Southern Womanhood" and securing "justice" against the "perpetrators". But be warned, if you like nice, tidy, happily-ever-after good-defeats-evil stories, this is not your book. This is a tale of senseless violence and oppression. The story of the deaths of three innocent black youths in the prime of their otherwise promising lives. It's the story of the deaths of a civil rights leader and his wife, and the violence and intimidation against countless others. It's the story of the Teflon sheriff who ruled Lake County for another twenty years, despite countless other accusations of misconduct and corruption.

But this isn't even just the story of the "Groveland Boys" case. It is the story of the world's emerging superpower, the beacon of justice and democracy to the world, and how that superpower turned a blind eye to the injustices routinely inflicted on black citizens throughout the Jim Crow South. In addition the Groveland case, Gilbert King recounts dozens of similar and related cases from all over the South. From race riots to lynchings to rape to discrimination of all types, King puts the lie to the oft-repeated protest of the South that it was Northern/NAACP/communist/etc. agitators who stirred up otherwise peaceful Southern race relations. And no, things weren't always rosy in the North either, but Marshall and his colleagues didn't fear for their lives, and when black butler Joseph Spell was accused of raping his white employer, he received a fair trial and was acquitted in Connecticut, something that could not and did not happen below the Mason-Dixon line.

If you need a silver lining to an otherwise very dark cloud, it comes from the fact that the very barbarity of this and similar cases paved the way for justice to slowly trickle in. There is, perhaps, a limit to the inhumanity that human nature will bear, and as publicity of these kinds of cases grew, so too did public outrage. Like Mabel Norris Reese, Americans North and South began rethinking their deeply held beliefs regarding race and race relations. At the same time, the diligent and careful legal work of people like Houston and Marshall began setting enough precedents that by 1954 cases like Brown v. the Board of Education could overturn the legal framework supporting Jim Crow. These changes came too late to save Ernest Thomas, Samuel Shepherd and Walter Irvin (and to save co-defendant Charles Greenlee from an undeserved stint at hard labor), but they came in time to see Thurgood Marshall promoted to the highest court in the land, where he presided over an unparalleled period of civil rights growth in the nation's history.

This book should be required reading for high school and college students, as well as adults. Now that we have our first black president, there are those who would whitewash the struggles it took to get here and deny that there is much left to improve. Power of the kind wielded by Sheriff Willis McCall and supported by like-minded people as well as decent but unthinking people doesn't cede easily and, when forced out, it looks for ways to turn public opinion back to itself and restore itself to its "rightful" place. It is important that all Americans know the truth about where the struggle began and how much it has cost to right the wrongs of the past I order that we not fall prey to the same mindset that caused such oppressive division in the first place. Gilbert King has done us a great service by providing this rich and detailed history of one of the darkest chapters in our history so that this "post-racial" world can learn from history and not repeat it.
45 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Book March 19 2012
By Irish Girl - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Gilbert King is to be commended for this accomplishment. His writing style is masterful and his extensive research is exhaustive and thorough. One can only wonder why this case has not been dissected in the past. I continually had to remind myself that this was not a true crime novel but a non-fiction book depicting the worst of the Jim Crow era. Mr. King's remarkable style leaves the reader somewhat breathless in its wake and he is to be commended for offering us a work that will, no doubt, be a classic study of Thurgood Marshall's diligent work, through the courts, to attain equal rights for all Americans.
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding March 12 2012
By Traveler - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Only wish I could rate DEVIL IN THE GROVE higher than five stars! Thought Mr.King's "Execution of Willie Francis" was a great read but this is even better - if that's possible. Mr. King has perfected the art of writing about historical events that result in the reader feeling that she/he is right on the scene as these events unfold. Should be required reading for today's students. What's next, Mr. King??? I can hardly wait.
61 of 75 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Has anything really changed? March 24 2012
By Michael Engel - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
As I write this review, there is a nationwide controversy over the shooting of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, where local law enforcement officials have justified the murder as "self-defense".

Sanford is a half-hour drive from Groveland, where the story told by this superb book took place. And the events in both cases are eerily similar. Racism is by no means dead, the election of Barack Obama notwithstanding.

That said, I will simply add that I could not put this book down. I was enthralled. It is a skillfully written, heart-rending, yet inspiring narrative about the struggle led by Thurgood Marshall and others, who risked their lives to create a "new America".

The one negative feeling I was left with is the realization that courageous and self-sacrificing leadership of this kind in our times in America is sadly lacking. IMHO, this is particularly true among those who need it the most, such as the black community. To be more specific, those at the top today--and I include the President--hardly bear comparison to the likes of Thurgood Marshall. If you disagree with that assessment, read this book to understand the real meaning of what is involved in creating "change we can believe in".

Actually, read it anyway, no matter what your point of view. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
56 of 70 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Florida--South of the South March 28 2012
By Bill Emblom - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Five stars indicate that I "love" the book. I can't say that I love it, because it disgusts me to think that "my country tis of thee sweet land of liberty" carries the stigma of such ignoramuses as found in this book. Characters such as Sheriff Willis McCall, jailer Reuben Hatcher, Norma Padgett, and whittlin' Judge Truman Futch disgrace themselves and the entire country throughout these pages.

Narrow-minded bigots feel that Negro veterans from World War II are displaying an "uppity" attitude when they wear their uniforms after returning from service to their country. How dare they have the audacity, the nerve, the gall to even think they are equal to us superior (really ignorant) whites?

In 1949 four Negro individuals were wrongly accused of assaulting Norma Padgett, one immediately murdered and the remaining three beaten until they "confessed" to a crime they didn't commit or even never happened. Southern justice! Thurgood Marshall defended the remaining three, and the details of what took place will, or at least should, simply disgust you.

It's a good thing we no longer behave like this, right? We can rationalize that those bigots back then were victims of their times. We haven't progressed as much as we'd like to think. We recently witnessed an adult who felt "threatened" chasing down a young boy named Trayvon Martin and shooting him to death. We not only haven't progressed as much as we'd like to think we have, but we are in danger of reverting back to those blissful Ozzie and Harriet days (for white people). If nothing else this book should raise your blood pressure.
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