Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America

Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America

4.6 40
by Gilbert King
     
 

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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

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Overview

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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In July 1949, four black men in Florida (the “Groveland Four”) were accused of raping a white woman. By the time Marshall joined the case in August, one of the defendants—who had fled into the swamps—had been “lawfully killed.” After a trial of the remaining three, two were sentenced to death, and one to life imprisonment. On Marshall’s appeal, the Supreme Court ordered a new trial for the two on death row, though both men were shot while being transported between prisons before the second trial began, and only one survived. Using unredacted Groveland FBI case files and the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund files, journalist King (The Execution of Willie Francis: Race, Murder, and the Search for Justice in the American South) revisits an oft-overlooked case, with its accuser, whose testimony was patently false; defendants, who suffered terribly as a consequence; local police officials and lawyers who persecuted and prosecuted them; and their lawyers, who showed remarkable courage and perseverance in seeking justice. 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. Agent: Farley Chase, the Waxman Literary Agency. (Mar.)
The Chicago Tribune
“A powerful and well-told drama of Southern injustice.”
Christian Science Monitor
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”
Salon
“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.”
Boston Globe
“A taut, intensely readable narrative.”
Booklist
“A compelling chronicle.”
Dallas Morning News
“Gripping. . . . Lively and multidimensional.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“[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.”
Wil Haygood
“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.”
Kevin Boyle
“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.”
Michael G. Long
“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.”
Phyllis Vine
“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.”
Ira Katznelson
“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.”
Jack Greenberg
“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.”
Junot Diaz
“Superb.”
Thomas Friedman
“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.”
Library Journal
Seasoned journalist King (The Execution of Willie Francis: Race, Murder, and the Search for Justice in the American South) has written an arresting account of Thurgood Marshall's role as a prominent civil rights attorney in challenging racist "justice" in the South. King vividly renders the horrors perpetrated by a racist legal system and its odious representatives—principally, Lake County, FL, Sheriff Willis McCall, who was responsible for the 1949 arrest and unjust prosecution of four young black men, designated "the Groveland Boys." In this case, Marshall and the NAACP pursued every legal remedy to save the lives of these young men falsely accused of rape by a white woman, whose preposterous story went unquestioned by authorities. At great personal risk, Marshall tenaciously challenged the hegemony of McCall, eventually bringing to an end the racist reign of terror in Lake County and drawing it and its underlying mentality to national attention. VERDICT A powerful snapshot of history and the man who made it, certain to appeal to readers of Hampton Sides's Hellhound on His Trail: The Electrifying Account of the Largest Manhunt in American History.—Lynne F. Maxwell, Villanova Sch. of Law Lib., PA
Kirkus Reviews
A thoroughgoing study of one of the most important civil-rights cases argued by Thurgood Marshall in dismantling Jim Crow strictures. "Mr. Civil Rights" was mid-career in 1949 as special council to the Legal Defense Fund (of the NAACP) when the case of four young black men facing the death penalty for the rape of a white woman in Groveland, Fla., riveted his attention. Yet in order for the LDF to accept the case, it had to fulfill three requirements, as delineated by Marshall and explained in Smithsonian contributor King's (The Execution of Willie Francis: Race, Murder, and the Search for Justice in the American South, 2008) excellent account: There was injustice because of race or color; the man was innocent; and there was a real possibility of establishing precedent in the courts. Essentially, 17-year-old Norma Lee Padgett, married but separated from her husband, claimed that four black men had abducted and raped her after a dance she attended with her husband. In fact, three of the suspects—Walter Irvin, Charles Greenlee and Sam Shepherd—were arbitrarily picked up by Sheriff Willis McCall, a ringleader in the local Ku Klux Klan and friend of the powerful citrus growers of central Florida, summarily tortured in the basement of the jailhouse, from which "confessions" were then wrought, and paraded for the press. The final suspect, Ernest Thomas, had been hunted down in a cypress swamp and shot dead. Through the NAACP's Florida network, Marshall became involved in the case, appealing the initial guilty verdict for Shepherd and Irvin all the way to the Supreme Court, which overturned the convictions in Shepherd v. Florida in 1951. Yet McCall held the last word: He and his deputy not only drove the two suspects outside of town and shot them (Shepherd died instantly), but pursued Irvin even after the Florida governor pardoned him in 1955. King traces the pernicious tentacles of bigotry and expertly depicts the role of the press, the cast of characters and the entire contextual story of civil-rights law and the NAACP. Deeply researched and superbly composed.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061792267
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
02/19/2013
Series:
P.S. Series
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
434
Sales rank:
58,355
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.80(d)

What People are saying about this

Michael G. Long

“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.”

Kevin Boyle

“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.”

Wil Haygood

“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.”

Ira Katznelson

“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.”

Phyllis Vine

“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.”

Read More

Meet the Author

Gilbert King has written about U.S. Supreme Court history for the New York Times and the Washington Post, and is a featured contributor to Smithsonian magazine's history blog, Past Imperfect. He is the author of The Execution of Willie Francis: Race, Murder, and the Search for Justice in the American South. He lives in New York City with his wife and two daughters.

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Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America 4.6 out of 5 based on 1 ratings. 40 reviews.
SarahTurn More than 1 year ago
I thought this book was going to too dark and violent for my tastes, but I was wrong. This book is masterful in the way the author changes pace, alternating between history and heartstopping drama. At turns, King describes with great clarity the citrus economy, or the corruption in Florida politics that set the state for a story like Groveland. Other times, he takes great care to deliver the shocking plot twists, usually the result of Sheriff Willis McCall's racism. But the book presents a balanced look at the characters who are caught in "the Dawn of a New America" where the times are changing in Florida. That's what's so amazing about this story. Thurgood Marshall was right at the center of these changes not just in Florida, but across the country. And it all plays out in the shadowy land the author calls, south of the South. Devil in the Grove is one of the best books I've read in a long, long time. Part of why I liked it so much is it brings a bit of glory and recognition to the lawyers in this story from the NAACP, black and white, who put their lives on the line. Yes, their lives were literally on the line. One was even killed by the KKK at the start of the rape trial! I have to say that despite the heavy subject, I laughed several times while reading this book. Thurgood Marshall had a wonderful sense of humor on display and the trial is such a farce, with the prosecutor making a mockery of every defense witness, that it was hard not to bust out laughing, thinking that some of these things really happened in an American courtroom in the 20th century. Highly recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Timely, thoroughly researched, well written and a story that resonates in our time. One of the best pieces of contemporary history to come along in a very long time. If this is the only book you read this summer, your time will be very well spent.
gus69 More than 1 year ago
I am still reading this book but I am enjoying very much. I am an Historian by training and the book exposes what the civil rights situation, at the end of WWII, was like in the South. It is a fast paced and very well written book.
dfn1 More than 1 year ago
This is a fascinating book about a terrible travesty of justice. It seems to be well researched. It didn't know the outcome, and it was difficult to put the book down. I knew nothing about Thurgood Marshall except that he was a Supreme Court justice, and it was very interesting to learn about his earlier law career. Maybe I shouldn't be, but I was shocked that this occurred during my lifetime (the 1940's and 50's).
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An intriguing true story; well investigated, well written. This book definitely deserved the Pulitzer prize it got.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I live in Central Florida, but am a transplant from Wisconsin; this book was fantastic. I really believe that the struggle for Civil Rights as it is taught, tends to trivialize or neglect the difficulties that many hero's like Thurgood Marshall and many, many others engaged in. I Highly recommend this book to fellow Civics and US History teachers. The brutality of segregation against blacks and the corrosive effect it had on white society is almost a theological, as well as a Historical dilemma that this book explores.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The story moves quickly with a nice combination of history, legal and personal points of view. It was clear and provided a new view on the Civil Rights movement.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is brilliantly written; it reads like a novel, but it actually happened. It's a thorough examination of the early professional years of Thurgood Marshall's career. It was revealing to me how pervasive and virulent the racism in Florida was around 1950, and how small-town justice was meted out by racist, sociopathic local lawmen by means of pistols and shotguns. I sometimes think that racism is still prevalent in the entire United States, but this book shows how egregiously present it was in Florida after WWII. It still exists, but it's just subtler and less murderous. I would also recommend this author's previous book, The Execution of Willie (Last name?), which has some of the same tension and excellent narrative.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a story everyone needs to read! My only complaint is that the dates and order of events (mostly ancillary events rather than the main story line) were confusing, especially for the first half of the book. It is a trite expression that if we don't know our history we are bound to repeat it. But as I read this book I couldn't help but think how applicable that is to the Groveland boys-- all Americans need to know this story so that this kind of injustice will never be tolerated again.
Reader212 More than 1 year ago
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.
aarjay More than 1 year ago
This book reveals why Thurgood Marshall will be remember as one of the greatest Supreme Court Justices in our history. A warrior for the equal protection of every citizen of this great country if ours. It reveals some of the horrors of our past and hopefully encourages us to not allow these evils to repeat in our future.
MerlinDB More than 1 year ago
Very informative look at the pre-civil rights South and the struggles of some courageous people.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Awarded a well deserved Pulitzer King deftly describes the lawlessness inflicted on the Black Population in post World War 11 Cental Florida by law enforcement itself. The great debt the Civil Rights Movement owes Thurgood Marshall is chronicled in rich detail. Marshall is a giant figure in Twentieth Century America who is not given his due.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a story that will amaze and in some way bring out the best in all
CEC23 More than 1 year ago
This book is gripping, informative, shocking and depressing all at the same time. I am so ashamed of my southern "white" brothers for their hatred and cruelty. The idea that skin color is a valid assessment of a person's humaness is as stupid as the bias that exists either for or against a person because of his/her religion or politics or sexual preferences. I am thrilled that Thurgood Marshall was able to use the judicial system to "educate" and make some progress toward respecting all people. There is still today too much of the "us vs them" divisions in our society. This book helps to bring some prospective to our journey to brotherhood.
OlyDan More than 1 year ago
An excellent book about a very troubling part of our shared history. Great history and great writing as well. Reminds one of how so much in human history is complex yet connected. Highly recommend.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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BettyBoop91 More than 1 year ago
Thurgood Marshall is an icon of the Civil Rights movement and this book details the human side and the specific difficulties incurred by the NAACP LDF before the decision in 1954 which overturned segregation. Although it is a historical documentary, the writing style is like a fiction book and is very engaging. Every American should read it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A really good book and an interesting read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Often times a book of this scope is to follow because of the sheer number of characters that have to be included and intoduced to the reader - not so in this case. The author does an excellent job of keeping the story easy to follow. The notes at the end of the book are a true sign of a well researched and thought out delivery of a grim time in U.S history (authors often leave out the all important bibliography these days and I really appreciated seeing all the works cited on these pages). Gilbert King tells this horrific story of hate, ignorance, murder and injustice in a straight forward, almost matter-of-fact way; without being melodramatic or sensationalist the truth is that much more poignant. A truth that however embarrassing to the history of our nation needs to be known and remembered so as never to be repeated...because there might not be a Thurgood Marshall and so many other brave souls willing to dedicate their lives to enlightenment and reform the next time around.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great thorough read! Well researched and put together.