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

Devil in the Groveis 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...

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Title:Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America
Author:Gilbert King
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Edition Language:English

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

  • Granny

    I had the misfortune of living in Lake Co., FL for nearly 20 years where this incident took place; I was there a couple of decades after the event, but it was still widely spoken of. Sheriff Willis McCall had god-like status in the area. Men would stand and take off their hats when he passed. The atmosphere was toxic. Well-researched book. Hard for me to read, having witnessed so much of the racism still there in the 1960's-1980's.

  • Londa

    Enlightening! Easily one of the best books I have read this year. It is one thing to learn about the struggle against prejudice and inequality in a textbook, and it is quite another to FEEL as though you are LIVING it. Gilbert King is able to transport his readers back to a time which should not be forgotten. This book is hard to read, but even harder to put down.

    King brings Thurgood Marshall to life in a way that I had never seen done before. While I knew that he had done monumental things on

    Enlightening! Easily one of the best books I have read this year. It is one thing to learn about the struggle against prejudice and inequality in a textbook, and it is quite another to FEEL as though you are LIVING it. Gilbert King is able to transport his readers back to a time which should not be forgotten. This book is hard to read, but even harder to put down.

    King brings Thurgood Marshall to life in a way that I had never seen done before. While I knew that he had done monumental things on his way to becoming a Supreme Court Justice, I never knew the extent of the risks he took doing them. King gives us a realistic glimpse of the entire persona that was Thurgood Marshall. He did not try to prop him up as a demigod, and it was clear that Justice Marshall was a good man whose human faults did not stop him from achieving GREAT things.

    The story of the Groveland Boys is so dramatic, that if Hollywood made a movie about it, you would think, "Now they've gone too far! That couldn't have happened!" The sad part about it is that, Yes it really did happen. The name of the book was 100% apt. Sheriff McCall was a true Devil.

    I especially enjoyed the stories about the not so well known fighters in the struggle. The story of Harry and Harriette Moore brought tears to my eyes. Mr. Moore was the epitome of perseverance and dedication.

    My only slight against this book was the first third or so was a little confusing. The story shifted back and forth in time, and between several cases. I think the large number of 'characters' and case histories made the time shifts difficult to follow. I did appreciate the information that was presented, but I did feel like I should be taking notes to keep up.

    I would recommend this book to EVERYONE! Maybe I should read non-fiction more often

  • Geoffrey Benn

    “Devil in the Grove,” by Gilbert King, is the 2013 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction. It is also one of the most gripping and horrifying books I’ve read in a long time. The book tells the story of the Groveland Boys – four African-American men falsely accused of raping a young Florida woman. The story is that of how the NAACP, led by Thurgood Marshall, attempts to save the lives of the accused men. Their opponents are the entrenched white establishment of Lake county, led by

    “Devil in the Grove,” by Gilbert King, is the 2013 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction. It is also one of the most gripping and horrifying books I’ve read in a long time. The book tells the story of the Groveland Boys – four African-American men falsely accused of raping a young Florida woman. The story is that of how the NAACP, led by Thurgood Marshall, attempts to save the lives of the accused men. Their opponents are the entrenched white establishment of Lake county, led by Sheriff Willis McCall – one of the most brutal, arrogant men I’ve ever read about. The book was eye-opening for me on a number of fronts. The volume and frequency of lynchings, bombings, and other violence against African Americans and their allies was far greater than I had realized. I was also struck by how much power remained at the local and state levels, relative to the Federal government, in 1950s America. The atrocities perpetrated by McCall and his allies were widely reported at the time, but the Federal government was unwilling or unable to step in and take action. While the recent NSA scandals suggest the pendulum may have swung too far towards central government, the increase in Federal power we’ve seen over the 50 years since the events portrayed in the book have made it much more difficult for tyrants of McCall’s ilk to dominate communities. I strongly recommend “Devil in the Grove,” albeit with the caution that it is quite disturbing.

  • Florence

    In the late 1940s in Lake County Florida, a seventeen year old girl claimed she was raped by four black men. She lied. Her accusations resulted in the torture, death, and imprisonment of men of color who were innocent of any crime. The county sheriff, his deputy, and many of the other citizens belonged to the Ku Klux Klan, an infamous organization of domestic terrorism. They held life and death power over unfortunate prisoners in the county jail. They held influence over the courts. Judges

    In the late 1940s in Lake County Florida, a seventeen year old girl claimed she was raped by four black men. She lied. Her accusations resulted in the torture, death, and imprisonment of men of color who were innocent of any crime. The county sheriff, his deputy, and many of the other citizens belonged to the Ku Klux Klan, an infamous organization of domestic terrorism. They held life and death power over unfortunate prisoners in the county jail. They held influence over the courts. Judges convicted poor, black defendants with a wink and a nod. Only the persistant and heroic efforts of Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP legal team could hope to save an innocent black man accused of raping a white woman from being executed. And the NAACP efforts often did not succeed. They certainly could do nothing to prevent lynchings. I am appalled that this happened in my country. And not so long ago. These atrocities are a part of American history that have been cloaked in darkness. This is an important book. I hope it is widely read.

  • Steve

    Newsflash (January 2019), on the cover of today's

    , a great excuse to read this book if you haven't done so yet:

    Quite simply, one of those books everyone (or "more people") should read, and I'm sorry it took me so long to find it. An important story well researched and told. And a well deserved award/accolade winner, an extraordinary piece of history, a powerful summary of a deeply troubling, disturbing, unnerving, ugly, place and time, and

    Newsflash (January 2019), on the cover of today's

    , a great excuse to read this book if you haven't done so yet:

    Quite simply, one of those books everyone (or "more people") should read, and I'm sorry it took me so long to find it. An important story well researched and told. And a well deserved award/accolade winner, an extraordinary piece of history, a powerful summary of a deeply troubling, disturbing, unnerving, ugly, place and time, and the kind of book that opens minds and reminds us that our preconceived notions of history, major events, and others (our neighbors, our fellow citizens) are better understood in context.

    The book is a lot of things (all done well). First and foremost, as a chronicle of race relations and and the civil rights movement, it paints a vivid picture and serves as a splendid companion to Isabel Wilkerson's

    (which I also recommend without hesitation). As a biography of Thurgood Marshall, it introduces readers to the life of an extraordinary, larger-than-life giant in the country's evolution. And, frankly, as a law book, it does a surprisingly good job of reminding us that the evolution of law enforcement, justice, and due process was neither smooth nor always honorable, just as it puts in context current events (including the

    movement, and the seeming resurgence in(?), emboldening of, or, at least, increased public awareness of, white supremacy in America).

    Alas, this is not a happy book or an easy read. The facts are brutal, the behavior of far too many is as reprehensible as it is inexplicable, and the frequency with which one's sense of justice and goodwill are offended are legion, relentless, heart-wrenching, and ... sadly ... a significant aspect of our nation's history, culture, and, no doubt, a factor in many of the social divisions and policy choices we struggle with and read about on a daily basis.

    Kudos to Gilbert King. I wish I'd read it earlier. I recommend it without hesitation.

  • Kathleen

    Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction 2013. Thurgood Marshall deserves a monument in Washington D.C. for what he did to set legal precedents dismantling segregation and Jim Crow laws. He won 29 of 32 cases before the Supreme Court, later becoming a Supreme Court Justice himself. He believed in the nation and in the law.

    The ‘devil’ was one Willis V. McCall, the violent sheriff of Lake County in Florida. Not only did he let the Ku Klux Klan do as they liked, he brutally beat suspects and even murdered

    Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction 2013. Thurgood Marshall deserves a monument in Washington D.C. for what he did to set legal precedents dismantling segregation and Jim Crow laws. He won 29 of 32 cases before the Supreme Court, later becoming a Supreme Court Justice himself. He believed in the nation and in the law.

    The ‘devil’ was one Willis V. McCall, the violent sheriff of Lake County in Florida. Not only did he let the Ku Klux Klan do as they liked, he brutally beat suspects and even murdered some. The focus of this book is on four black men (one was only 16) falsely accused of raping a married white woman in 1949. At least one had a solid alibi that he was somewhere else at the time of the crime. No matter. Physician evidence suggesting that Norma Lee Padgett was never even raped was ignored. No matter. One of the suspects was killed before he could be tried. Two others were shot by the sheriff when being transferred from prison in order to be retried. One lived and it was only through the efforts of the N.A.A.C.P.’s Legal Defense Fund and Thurgood Marshall that he eventually regained his freedom. Highly recommend this disturbing case in our nation’s history.

  • Scott

    I'm often struck, when reading a book about race in 20th-century America--Parting the Waters, say, or the amazing Warmth of Other Suns--by how many of the most horrifying, virulently racist events during the Jim Crow/Civil Rights eras took place in Florida. Growing up here in New York in the 1960s and '70s, for some reason (aka, marketing) I guess I still unconsciously associate Florida with Disneyworld, orange juice, and beaches--later: cocaine, gross nightclubs, Seinfeld's parents, stolen

    I'm often struck, when reading a book about race in 20th-century America--Parting the Waters, say, or the amazing Warmth of Other Suns--by how many of the most horrifying, virulently racist events during the Jim Crow/Civil Rights eras took place in Florida. Growing up here in New York in the 1960s and '70s, for some reason (aka, marketing) I guess I still unconsciously associate Florida with Disneyworld, orange juice, and beaches--later: cocaine, gross nightclubs, Seinfeld's parents, stolen elections--more than the KKK. And this disconnect, or instinctive blind spot, is apparently not unique to me, or at all new. As Gilbert King writes in his excellent Devil In the Grove, which features some of the most disturbing scenes of white-on-black violence I've ever read, all of which take place in the Sunshine State:

    "The state of Florida, despite recording a higher number of lynchings and registering more members of the Ku Klux Klan than any other state in the South, inexplicably remained in the shadows of Dixieland in the 1940s. Florida was epithetically 'south of the South,' and racial incidents that would have likely attracted national attention had they occurred in Mississippi or Alabama somehow managed to escape scrutiny because they'd taken place in the forgotten land of sun and surf."

    I actually wrote the above in reference to the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin verdict, delivered while I was reading Devil In the Grove. I also saw the superb movie Fruitvale Station right around then as well, which, true, takes place in Oakland, but still... it felt like a triple-whammy of racist horribleness that, though certainly not as open and accepted as it was in the 1940s, is still very much alive and active in the South, and the rest of America, today.

    So, Devil In the Grove. King's book is a detailed, dramatic account of a case in Lake County, Florida, 1949, in which four almost-random black kids (teenagers and early 20s) were charged with raping a young white woman. That there was zero evidence of anything mattered not at all. That these kids suffered horrendous beatings and just all manner of appalling physical abuse by Sheriff McCall and his deputies was seen as a big plus by area whites; McCall would win reelection seven times, and was in power as late as 1972. It's all so disgusting and infuriating, but vital for everyone to keep top-of-mind when talking about race in America. Anyway, the case attracts the NAACP, which at the time meant the brilliant (and hard-partying) Thurgood Marshall, and, in addition to big chunks of the book being a first-rate legal thriller, Devil In the Grove also functions as an "early years" bio of the future Supreme. AND it all went down (there were numerous appeals, stretching out over years) around the time of Brown vs Board of Ed, Marshall's greatest triumph, which also makes an appearance here. So, it's a lot, and, frankly, it's more than Gilbert King can handle at times, as he jumps around with chronology and introduces too many characters without clearly distinguishing among them. Basically: I got lost quite a few times in the book's first half. But once King settles in a groove, the pages fly, the blood boils, the lessons relearned again and again.

  • Chrissie

    I knew practically nothing about Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993) when I began this book. He may be considered a forerunner of the American Civil Rights Movement. The book is not a biography. It does not cover his entire life. It speaks of his marriage and family, but not in great detail. It is a book about his career, his goals and beliefs, and in particular his involvement in the Groveland Boys Case. In Florida 1949, a seventeen-year-old white girl claimed four Blacks raped her. The case went to

    I knew practically nothing about Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993) when I began this book. He may be considered a forerunner of the American Civil Rights Movement. The book is not a biography. It does not cover his entire life. It speaks of his marriage and family, but not in great detail. It is a book about his career, his goals and beliefs, and in particular his involvement in the Groveland Boys Case. In Florida 1949, a seventeen-year-old white girl claimed four Blacks raped her. The case went to court three times. We learn of the racial discrimination pervading the Bay Lake, Florida, community. Voices from all sides are heard. One says this, another says that and testimonies change. What really did happen and would justice ever be obtained? By the end, a crystal-clear picture is drawn. The court cases continuing through 1954 are covered in detail. Other related cases are covered too, as well as the influence affected by Hoover, the FBI and the Communist scare. The sum of the intertwined elements enable one to grasp the full scope of events. Thurgood Marshall’s role was paramount, but he was still only one of the many involved. To draw a clear picture, the book does and must detail many individuals—Marshall’s mentors, those at the NAACP and its Legal Defense Fund, attorneys for the prosecution, lawyers for the defense, sheriffs, governors, reporters and many other officials, not to mention members of the KKK too.

    There are many individuals to keep track of, but each one introduced is there for a reason and comes to play a significant role. In my view, the book does

    go off on sidetracks. It keeps to the point, but a lot of territory must be covered to present a complete picture that can be properly understood.

    There is no list of the people involved. I see no need for this. Each is properly introduced, and adequate background information is provided. As the years pass, one returns to central figures many times. I had little trouble keeping track of who is who. Moreover, I got a very good feel for Thurgood Marshall’s personality. This was an important aspect of the book for me.

    All of us have read about segregation, racial discrimination in the South and the Civil Rights Movement. This book makes such discrimination feel personal and real. You will be made furious and repulsed at the injustices. The absurdity of events hits you in the face. You will be emotionally moved. Yet the book educates, and it sticks to the facts. It draws a full picture based on solid facts and meticulous research.

    The book is for the layman. Legal procedures are clarified. Nevertheless, the more acquainted you are with legal and judicial procedures and rulings, the easier the book will be to follow.

    At times, I was not completely sure of the sources of the views presented, but I saw no reason to doubt what I was told.

    Peter Francis James does a fantastic job with the narration. In dialogs he captures impeccably both how those of the defense and the prosecution thought. Each held their own views and were incapable of understanding how those of the opposing side thought! A few did actually modify their views though. Anyway, the narrator’s ability to intone conflicting viewpoints is extremely well done. Secondly, the factual information is voiced clearly and at a steady, measured pace. Information is not dumped on you rapidly, making it difficult to absorb. James captures both how the educated and the uneducated, how Blacks and Whites and people from the North and the South speak. He even captures individuals’ personality differences. I do not think I could have coped with this as an audiobook without such an excellent narration.

    The book is a difficult read, but it is a book you will be glad you have read.

    Five stars? Four stars? It was between these two ratings I debated. I have absolutely no complaints with the book. None! The book is dense, and I do not have a degree in law. To some extent this lessens my ability to absorb and appreciate its content, despite its clarity. Four stars represents best how I feel about the book—I like it a lot, and I highly recommend it to others.

  • Kiekiat

    I gave 'Devil in the Grove' 4 stars, but if I had a bit more rating leeway, I would have given some parts 3 stars, some 3.5 and some 4.5. The book is sort of like a record album where you love 5 songs, like 3 and are "meh" about 2 of them.

    Devil in the Grove is a nonfiction book written in novel form, and it covers a lot of ground. It's main theme involves the efforts of Thurgood Marshall and other NAACP attorneys (along with some private lawyers) to defend three young black men accused of rape

    I gave 'Devil in the Grove' 4 stars, but if I had a bit more rating leeway, I would have given some parts 3 stars, some 3.5 and some 4.5. The book is sort of like a record album where you love 5 songs, like 3 and are "meh" about 2 of them.

    Devil in the Grove is a nonfiction book written in novel form, and it covers a lot of ground. It's main theme involves the efforts of Thurgood Marshall and other NAACP attorneys (along with some private lawyers) to defend three young black men accused of rape by a white woman in Lake County, Florida in 1949. This accusation is a heinous frame-up concocted by an unscrupulous racist sheriff and his equally racist deputy henchmen and aided and abetted by the Ku Klux Klan and the county's corrupt justice system. This abortion of justice became known as "The Groveland Case" and was one of the most famous cases Thurgood Marshall was involved with in his prodigious efforts to win justice for many falsely-accused Southern blacks.

    This is a very convoluted story and Gilbert King does a fair job of sussing it out. It is not a story easily boiled down into a paragraph or two. For those wanting a more detailed summation of the case, just head to Wikipedia:

    Essentially, in a particularly racist part of Northern Florida (Lake County) a young white woman alleges she was raped by four black men. The county is run by a KKK-connected sheriff Willis McCall who frames the young black men in a miscarriage of justice so blatant that it is sickening to read about. In actuality, it is typical of racist incidents that were occurring all over America, predominantly in the American South, for many years. False charges leveled against black men often resulted in lynchings and in a state with the race-hatred of Florida, those blacks falsely accused that were not lynched nearly always received the death penalty for their alleged crimes.

    The rape of a white woman by a black man was seen as especially abhorrent because it was considered by whites as a defilement of "Southern womanhood." It had been a long-held, preposterous notion than all black men lusted after Southern white women, thus inciting them to rape quite often.

    'Devil in the Grove' is the story of the tragic fate of these four falsely-accused black men and it is also a story weaving together the deplorable racism in the American South and the efforts of the NAACP, through its legal chief Thurgood Marshall and other dedicated Civil Rights activists to uphold the rights of black people to be treated equally under the law and to end legal segregation that had been established in the ignominious 1896 Supreme Court case of Plessy v. Ferguson that had established the "separate but equal" doctrine allowing for legal discrimination against blacks by white Americans for many years to come. Thurgood Marshall, most famous as the first black man to serve as a US Supreme Court Justice, was one of the greatest and most effective of the many courageous spirits who fought for black equality under the law. During this period, Marshall was also working to right the injustice of the Plessy decision and was arguing in various courts throughout the land to establish precedents for the case that finally did overrule the Plessy decision, that of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.

    This discrimination due to the "separate but equal" ruling took many forms. A common one was that whites and black attended separate schools, by law, and typically the black schools were vastly inferior to the white schools. Blacks often were forced to learn in uncomfortable, poorly-constructed buildings using outdated textbooks and with little money for educational supplies. Those blacks who succeeded in spite of these disadvantages were often denied entrance into the professional schools of many universities, especially in the American South, and extremely talented students like Thurgood Marshall were excluded from employment in prestigious positions awarded to white graduates. Marshall's victory in the Brown v. Board of education case outlawed school segregation and paved the way for many civil rights victories to come. It is certainly one of the most important cases ever decided by the US Supreme court.

    There are many heroes in 'Devil in the Grove." Many tireless workers from the NAACP and other Civil Rights organizations, some like Florida NAACP director Harry Moore gave their lives during the time of the Groveland case, as his home was bombed resulting in the death of Mr. Moore and his wife Harriett. No killer was ever found though the KKK and Sheriff Willis McCall of Lake County were suspects in the case.

    Another hero was the black attorney Franklin Marshall, who assisted in the defense of the three defendants in their first trial and then argued successfully for a retrial for two of the defendants sentenced to death during the initial trial. (in case the reader is wondering why there were three defendants instead of four, it is because Ernest Thomas, one of the four charged with the rape, fled Lake County and was pursued by an armed posse of deputized men, KKK members and Sheriff Willis McCall. Thomas was shot to death after a 36-hour chase through the N. Florida swamps as he sat against a tree in exhaustion. It was estimated that his body had sustained over a hundred bullet wounds).

    In my opinion, the best qualities of the book were its evenhanded portrayal of Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP. It would have been easy for the author to lionize him as he crusaded across America fighting racial injustice. And, indeed, Thurgood Marshall the crusading lawyer IS a genuine hero and was regarded as such by millions of Americans as he fought for the rights of black people. Marshall the man is also given to the reader, warts and all. He was a tireless worker who enjoyed unwinding with a drink or three and was known for an occasional but always discreet extramarital dalliance. He was not a perfect man, in other words, and the book does not try to paint him as such.

    Likewise the NAACP. It was, at heart, an organization with a noble purpose. Like any organization, though, it was rife with internecine squabbles, administrative scandals and disputes with other civil rights organizations with differing political views. King does not present these issues to cast aspersions on the organization. His account of the NAACP is pure reportage and possibly an attempt to show that it had flaws similar to most large organizations. For those unfamiliar with the NAACP, the following link will be useful:

    'Devil in the Grove' is a factual, disturbing account of racism in America circa the late 1940's/early 1950's. It contains many repellent accounts of racial violence, police officers committing despicable criminal acts and a series of shameful trials in which logic and justice are thrown out the window and replaced by lies and frame-ups. What becomes clear is that racist Southerners serving on juries with black defendants could not be swayed by evidence, logic or the compelling arguments of even America's best attorneys.

    There are a few stories of redemption in the book. The evidence of criminal malfeasance by the police is so great that the county's racist prosecutor and lead newspaper reporter eventually come round to realizing the innocence of the three convicted men.

    This book is not for the squeamish. If you are offended by racist language and actions, extreme violence and gross miscarriage of justice, I would advise against reading it. If you are strong enough to stomach a heavy dose of human stupidity and evil, this book offers a great account of a true American hero and the types of corrupt systems he had to contend against.

    This would have been a five-star book had it been better-organized. At times it was all over the place. This sometimes weakened the narrative due to the complexity of events and at times made the book hard to follow. The writing is superb, however, and this work is a worthy history of an ignominious period in American life and a nuanced account of the fight against racial injustice.

  • Brina

    Florida. The Sunshine State. Miami Beach. Disney World. Home to oranges, manatees, hibiscuses, and countless retirees who make the state their new year round or winter residence. With a southern tri-county region that has become home to a myriad of Latinos, and Northeastern corridor transplants, when I have visited family and friends over the years I do not feel I am in the south, as I would in Tennessee or Georgia. Yet, Florida, especially the northern and central sections is just as southern

    Florida. The Sunshine State. Miami Beach. Disney World. Home to oranges, manatees, hibiscuses, and countless retirees who make the state their new year round or winter residence. With a southern tri-county region that has become home to a myriad of Latinos, and Northeastern corridor transplants, when I have visited family and friends over the years I do not feel I am in the south, as I would in Tennessee or Georgia. Yet, Florida, especially the northern and central sections is just as southern as the aforementioned states. The Trayvon Martin case in recent years rings a bell of the racism that is still present in the winter home to northerners. And sadly, this is nothing new. African Americans from Florida joined the Great Migration north, and Zora Neale Hurston wrote of all black hamlets such as Eatonville, built so that blacks could live self-sufficiently away from white authority. The blacks who were not fortunate to leave or move to all black communities, were at the liberty of being threatened by southern bastions of white supremacy on a daily basis. In his Pulitzer winning exposure of this way of life, Gilbert King takes readers back to a court case that was all too indicative of the southern code in the days before integration.

    When the newly integrated Brooklyn Dodgers trained in Daytona Beach in 1946, Jackie Robinson could not eat with his teammates or sleep in the same hotels. Local officials threatened to cancel Dodger games if Robinson suited up because his presence threatened a way of life, that of southern white supremacy and segregation. While Robinson was making a name for himself on the baseball diamond, African Americans had another hero, one who hoped to break down the walls of segregation in America. As the young star lawyer for the NAACP, Thurgood Marshall argued cases all over the south where defendants were indicted on the basis of being black. Cases of theft, integration of public places, and, in a few cases, rape, that were tried before all white juries, left African American defendants guilty and facing life in prison and in some cases electrocution. Marshall feared for his own life while traveling through the south, but with each case and subsequent appeal to the US Supreme Court, his mentor Charles Hamilton Houston noted that the walls of segregation were that much closer to crumbling down. Marshall continued to travel through Oklahoma, Tennessee, and other southern states during the 1940s, often with an escort, in hopes of influencing all white juries of the innocence of his defendants.

    Before the landmark 1954 Brown v Board case, the apex of Marshall’s career had been the Groveland boys case of 1949. Four African American men in a case of mistaken identity were accused of raping a white woman outside of Groveland, Florida located in central Lake County. Unlike the urban Miami in the south, Lake County was a rural hamlet of farmers and small towns that was governed by Ku Klux Klan members and their cronies. Sheriff Willis V McCall governed with an iron fist and was elected to office seven straight times, overseeing the region until 1972. According to Isabel Wilkerson’s Warmth of Other Suns, if a black man had been targeted by McCall and his men, it was best to get his family on a train heading north with no return date. One subject in Wilkerson’s book refused to return to Florida provided that McCall was still alive and calling the shots. With many Florida lawmakers in his pocket and a member of a local Klavern, if McCall arrested an African American for even the most minor offense, a guilty verdict was all but certain. Marshall along with his legal defense team attempted to change the way of thinking in Lake County, even for those in McCall’s pocket, with three lives at stake facing the chair.

    It took Thurgood Marshall and his deputy Franklin Williams multiple tries to find a white lawyer willing to head the defense of Walter Irvin and Samuel Shepherd who were accused of raping Norma Tyson Padgett. Even the most fair minded of lawyers believed in the chastity of the southern flower of white womanhood and feared for their careers should they take this case. Marshall settled on one Alex Akerman who argued for the defense along with Williams and later Marshall and his new deputy Jack Greenberg. The courtroom was much like other cases Marshall had visited over the years: a rural southern community, an all white jury, a judge who believed whites to be superior to blacks, and a southern way of life that believed blacks to be guilty until proven innocent. And yet Marshall won an appeal from the US Supreme Court for these reasons: an all white jury and a venue where his defendants would not receive a fair trial. With Williams going on fundraising tours for the NAACP legal defense fund, Marshall would head the appeals trial himself, even if it meant another trip to the south.

    Over the course of the Groveland case, four people died at the hands of McCall and the Klan including two of the defendants. McCall, the devil in the grove, with lawmakers on his side, twisted the truth in the press and in court, making up evidence and new testimonies as he went along. With an all white jury consisting of McCall’s peers, it was all but certain that the prosecution would win whatever appeals Marshall received from the Supreme Court. Marshall in his career only lost three Supreme Court appeals, two of them being death sentences. He admitted that he would probably lose but in his summations, if he could change peoples’ ways of thinking, he would be bringing the south that much closer to integration. With exposure of segregation and supremacy in the northern press, Marshall had allowed Americans to see the conditions blacks faced in southern pockets of white supremacy. After successfully trying Brown v Board in 1954, Marshall still had a long battle of subsequent cases ahead of him, leading to the moniker Mr Civil Rights in African American communities. By 1966, following the passage of the Civil rights act, Marshall was named to the Supreme Court, a position he held until his death.

    Eventually, I would like to retire to Florida. I have visited the state every year since I was one year old and even lived there for two years. South Florida, the part of the state I am most familiar with, is a southern paradise. Gilbert King makes me rethink my opinions of the sunshine state as a whole, even if the events of the Groveland boys case took place seventy years ago in a part of the state I only pass through in my route south. I can now successfully check another Pulitzer winner off of my reading list as I continue to honor Jackie Robinson’s 100th birthday year by reading about civil rights.

    4+ stars

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