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 41
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

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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.)
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.
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.”

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061792281
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
03/06/2012
Pages:
448
Sales rank:
298,878
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.40(d)

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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