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Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New Americaby Gilbert King
Synopses & Reviews
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 days 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 FBIs 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.”
"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." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
“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)
“The tragic Groveland saga — with its Faulknerian echoes of racial injustice spinning around an accusation of rape — comes astonishingly alive in Gilbert Kings narrative. It is both heartbreaking and unforgettable.” Wil Haygood, author of King of the Cats: The Life and Times of Adam Clayton Powell Jr.
“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'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
“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 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.
“The story's drama and pathos make it a page-turner, but Kings 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
“[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
“A compelling chronicle.” Booklist
“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....Kings style [is] at once suspenseful and historically meticulous” Christian Science Monitor
“A powerful and well-told drama of Southern injustice.” The Chicago Tribune
“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
“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
“Gripping....Lively and multidimensional.” Dallas Morning News
A gripping true story of racism, murder, rape, and the law, Devil in the Grove 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 Americas 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.
About 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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