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

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*
Winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for General
Nonfiction

* Nominated for a 2013 Edgar
Award 

* Book of the Year (Non-fiction, 2012)
The Boston Globe, Christian Science
Monitor

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," and the most important American lawyer of the twentieth
century, 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.

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

4

Jul 24, 2013

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. ...more
5

Jan 09, 2013

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.
4

Nov 23, 2019

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 ...more
5

Apr 14, 2018

Newsflash (January 2019), on the cover of today's Washington Post, a great excuse to read this book if you haven't done so yet: https://www.washingtonpost.com/histor...

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 Washington Post, a great excuse to read this book if you haven't done so yet: https://www.washingtonpost.com/histor...

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 Warmth of Other Suns (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 Black Lives Matter 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. ...more
5

Jul 21, 2014

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. ...more
4

Aug 19, 2018

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 not 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. ...more
5

Dec 20, 2019

Thurgood Marshall was larger than life. With a brilliant mind and enviable leadership skills, Mr. Thurgood took on the Jim Crow judicial system of the American South. Through his immense constitutional knowledge and commitment to it, he argued cases before the Supreme Court (eventually becoming the first black Supreme Court Justice), while leading the NAACPs Legal Defense Fund. His principled choice of cases was to look at the person beyond the color and to look at the merits of the case.

While Thurgood Marshall was larger than life. With a brilliant mind and enviable leadership skills, Mr. Thurgood took on the Jim Crow judicial system of the American South. Through his immense constitutional knowledge and commitment to it, he argued cases before the Supreme Court (eventually becoming the first black Supreme Court Justice), while leading the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund. His principled choice of cases was to “look at the person beyond the color” and to look at the merits of the case.

While completely submerged in preparations for arguing Brown v. Board in the Supreme Court (the landmark U.S. case that eliminated separate but equal), Mr Marshall became involved in the Groveland Boys case in Lake County Florida.

What followed is an unbelievable, highly documented account of murder by law enforcement of innocent blacks, lynchings, political and judicial corruption, KKK power, racism, economic motivations, house and business torchings, and bombings, mostly lead by Sheriff Willis McCall in Florida, aka south of the South. Most astonishingly, McCall remained an elected Sheriff until 1972, for 28 years.

As a child I was vaguely aware of Justice Marshall but not aware of his historical impact on the rights of all people in the U.S. and the actual risk to his life as he pursued justice. This is a chapter of American history that should be taught in every American school to unveil the true impact of racism and those that championed equal rights.

Shame on you Florida. Shame on you America.

5++ stars
...more
5

Mar 18, 2019

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. 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. ...more
4

Jan 06, 2020

Groveland is a small town in Lake County, Florida, about 30 miles west of Orlando. In 1949, a seventeen-year-old white woman accused four black men of rape. In this narrative non-fiction, Gilbert King tells the story of the Groveland Four. He explains how the NAACPs Legal Defense team, led by Thurgood Marshall, became involved in upholding the civil rights of these men at a time of rampant racism in the Jim Crow South.

The author provides a well-written, comprehensive account of the case, Groveland is a small town in Lake County, Florida, about 30 miles west of Orlando. In 1949, a seventeen-year-old white woman accused four black men of rape. In this narrative non-fiction, Gilbert King tells the story of the Groveland Four. He explains how the NAACP’s Legal Defense team, led by Thurgood Marshall, became involved in upholding the civil rights of these men at a time of rampant racism in the Jim Crow South.

The author provides a well-written, comprehensive account of the case, imparting a sense of the personalities of the people and the many steps in the legal process. Parts of this book are extremely disturbing, describing torture of suspects to obtain confessions and their outright murder. It will inspire outrage in the reader over the injustices suffered by these four young men. It is difficult to comprehend such racial hatred and willful disregard for the law by those sworn to uphold it.

I looked up the case after finishing the book, and the Groveland Four were pardoned by the Florida Clemency Board in 2019. It took seventy years. This book won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 2013. Recommended to those who want to understand more about the history of the US civil rights movement.
...more
5

Jun 09, 2013

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 Ive 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. ...more
4

Mar 16, 2019

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: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grovela...

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.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plessy_...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brown_v...

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: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NAACP

'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. ...more
5

Mar 26, 2019

Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys and the Dawn of a New America by Gilbert King was winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 2013. The book is a riveting examination of race relations in Florida at the height of the struggle for civil rights where the power of the embittered Ku Klux Klan and the lynching of blacks was not uncommon. It was at this time that Thurgood Marshall in working or NAACP Legal Defense Fund, was close to bringing the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys and the Dawn of a New America by Gilbert King was winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 2013. The book is a riveting examination of race relations in Florida at the height of the struggle for civil rights where the power of the embittered Ku Klux Klan and the lynching of blacks was not uncommon. It was at this time that Thurgood Marshall in working or NAACP Legal Defense Fund, was close to bringing the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education before the United States Supreme Court. However, because of the sheer injustice of the Groveland case, Thurgood Marshall became involved despite threats to his life. Gilbert King points out that even though Thurgood Marshall brought the Groveland case before the U.S. Supreme Court, that it is barely mentioned in civil rights history, law texts or the many biographies of Marshall. However, he notes that there is a not a Supreme Court justice that served with Marshall or lawyer who clerked for him, that did not hear his lively renditions of the Groveland story. Gilbert King had access to materials never before published, including the FBI's undredacted case files pertaining to the Groveland case, as well as the files of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. This was a powerful historical narrative that will stay with me for some time.

"With his far-reaching triumphs in landmark cases he argued before the U.S. Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall would indeed redefine justice in a multiracial nation and become, as one civil rights pioneer described him, The Founding Father of a New America."

"By the fall of 1951, Marshall had already filed and had begun trying in lower courts what would become his most famous case, Brown v. Board of Education, when he was again riding the rails toward Groveland."

"Southern juries might be stacked against blacks, and the judges might be biased, but Thurgood Marshall was demonstrating in case after case that their word was not the last, that in the U.S. Supreme Court the injustice in their decisions and verdicts could be reversed."

"For Marshall, the fight was never over with a jury's verdict. For him the Supreme Court was as level a playing field as you'd find in the land: that was the courtroom he wanted to fight in."

"'They can keep me from the courts of Florida,' Marshall shouted. 'But there is no man alive or to be born who can prevent me from arguing the Groveland case before the U.S. Supreme Court.'"

"Unlike any other state in the Deep South, Florida was undergoing a large-scale transformative demographic shift in the mid-fifties."

"'There is very little truth to the old refrain that one cannot legislate equality,' Marshall posited in a 1966 White House conference on civil rights. 'Laws not only provide concrete benefits, they can even change the hearts of men--some men, anyhow--for good or evil.'"
...more
5

Mar 13, 2013

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
...more
5

Nov 11, 2013

Feb, 2020:

Finished my 2nd read of the book for my book club. I found the 2nd reading much more difficult than the 1st time through - maybe because I already knew the major story line? Interesting that my memory from the first read was the Groveland Boys thread and not all the other things that Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP accomplished.


April, 2012:

Wow - one of the best works of history that I've read - as others have said - this reads as a thriller. Only - a very disturbing thriller because Feb, 2020:

Finished my 2nd read of the book for my book club. I found the 2nd reading much more difficult than the 1st time through - maybe because I already knew the major story line? Interesting that my memory from the first read was the Groveland Boys thread and not all the other things that Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP accomplished.


April, 2012:

Wow - one of the best works of history that I've read - as others have said - this reads as a thriller. Only - a very disturbing thriller because it is a true story, and I'm afraid, not as much in the past as the word "history" would indicate. ...more
2

Jul 03, 2013

I'm probably in the minority, but this is a really poorly written book on a fascinating combination of topics (The Groveland Case, Civil Rights, and Thurgood Marshall). The main problem is that the author can't seem to decide which topic to focus on, even within a chapter. There are so many loose threads of information started but never completed that I feel as though I've just unraveled one of the most intricately-woven tapestries of American history just by picking up the book.

Secondly, [mild I'm probably in the minority, but this is a really poorly written book on a fascinating combination of topics (The Groveland Case, Civil Rights, and Thurgood Marshall). The main problem is that the author can't seem to decide which topic to focus on, even within a chapter. There are so many loose threads of information started but never completed that I feel as though I've just unraveled one of the most intricately-woven tapestries of American history just by picking up the book.

Secondly, [mild SPOILER ALERT] the author adopts most of the racist, mysogynist, and exclusionary language of the time period without any distancing language included (example, "The flower of Southern Womanhood" without adding "white" to describe the alleged victim in the case; or calling the four suspects "rapists" throughout instead of "alleged rapists"). ...more
4

Jul 25, 2013

My version of a review. What I have thought and felt and experienced.

"Page 90
Gripping and horrifying, and I feel the truth."

07/4"Page 200
Institutionalized racism. The murder of The Groveland Boys, as they became known, took place in Florida, the south, in the late 1940s.

07/07 "page 300"
As I read I find myself questioning whether much has really changed in this country."

07/08
"In the postwar decade Florida wouldprove to be a state with a boundless capacity for racial inhumanity, even by My version of a review. What I have thought and felt and experienced.

"Page 90
Gripping and horrifying, and I feel the truth."

07/4"Page 200
Institutionalized racism. The murder of The Groveland Boys, as they became known, took place in Florida, the south, in the late 1940s.

07/07 "page 300"
As I read I find myself questioning whether much has really changed in this country."

07/08
"In the postwar decade Florida would…prove to be a state with a boundless capacity for racial inhumanity, even by measure of the rest of the South…”

I deleted the last part of my review by mistake. It is below.

This is a book I think should be required reading. What we see and feel and taste here is not taught in classrooms across the U.S. This is a horrific, a 'I feel like I’m sitting on the edge of my seat' story, that is not fiction. It really happened, and not that long ago. Its repercussions and consequences were and are integral parts of who we have become as a people and what our country does and does not stand for today.

“Some" changes that smell like what it means to have decency and equality have been made by independent individuals, groups and in our state and federal laws. That said, I feel all the more certain after reading this work that there is still far too much overt and covert persecution and degradation that is still doled out physically or more subtly in what is said or left unsaid in certain company. Open and behind closed door racism is alive and well in this country. It is still hard wired in so many minds and souls.

The author has written this real story in a way that has taken me on a roller coaster ride of feelings and states of mind that range from soul-shattering, incensed, breathless, invigorated, grateful and spent. I was already awed by the unflinching conviction and bravery of Thurgood Marshall, and by the dignity, fear and strength of the Black teen boys who were murdered after being falsely accused of raping a white teen girl before reading Gibert King’s work. I was not expecting to learn so many new and critical lessons. We must never forget and we must be forever vigilant about the fine line we still walk that is made up of barbarism based on racial hatred and ignorance. Thank you for writing this book, Gilbert King.



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4

Jan 17, 2020

This deserved its Pulitzer. King brings together, in a clear narrative, a large cast of characters, the social and political climate of an era, the appalling institutional racism and violence perpetrated against African Americans, and the heroic work for civil rights. This account of four Black men falsely accused of raping a white girl in rural Florida is an example of microhistory that illuminated the history of a nation. I cant imagine trying to survive in a culture of such brutality, This deserved its Pulitzer. King brings together, in a clear narrative, a large cast of characters, the social and political climate of an era, the appalling institutional racism and violence perpetrated against African Americans, and the heroic work for civil rights. This account of four Black men falsely accused of raping a white girl in rural Florida is an example of microhistory that illuminated the history of a nation. I can’t imagine trying to survive in a culture of such brutality, injustice and powerlessness. And, I can’t imagine acting with such blatant disregard for decency, the truth, justice and even the most basic respect for another human being. The Whites in this story would not have treated a dog as horribly as they treated their Black neighbors. 4.5 stars ...more
5

Sep 21, 2013

I am well aware that Devil in the Grove has some flaws, but honestly I could never rate another book with 5 stars if I didn't give five stars to this book.

Gilbert King recounts the story of the Groveland "Boys", four black men falsely accused of rape in Florida in 1948. King backs up the story with detailed background information about the citrus industry in Florida, the Jim Crow South, the internal politics of the NAACP, the relationship of the NAACP to the FBI, Thurgood Marshall's other I am well aware that Devil in the Grove has some flaws, but honestly I could never rate another book with 5 stars if I didn't give five stars to this book.

Gilbert King recounts the story of the Groveland "Boys", four black men falsely accused of rape in Florida in 1948. King backs up the story with detailed background information about the citrus industry in Florida, the Jim Crow South, the internal politics of the NAACP, the relationship of the NAACP to the FBI, Thurgood Marshall's other cases, and various other topics, but his information is gripping and the book is astonishingly well-researched with tons of primary sources. Over and over again I found myself searching the web to get even more information about someone or something he mentioned, so I understand how he felt the need to include so much background. Still, I would criticize the book for almost losing the Groveland case in the other details.

What happened to four young black men in Groveland in 1948 is unremittingly horrible. I kept wishing for something dramatic to happen to relieve the tension and lead to a happy ending. There are heroes in this book, Thurgood Marshall only one among them, but they were up against long odds and there were so many villains. I will be thinking about this book and the issues raised by the case for a very long time.

I listened to the excellent audio recording of this book narrated by Peter Francis James. I have been in tears, in a rage, on the edge of my seat. My equilibrium has definitely been upset for a while.

Read this book. ...more
5

Jul 06, 2014

Riveting, infuriating and a little depressing. Reading about the uphill climbs for justice in America a little more than 60 years ago. Flagrant disregard and devaluing of people. The notion of bullies w/ the full, crazed and deputized forces of the KKK to terrorize black people. Timely because maybe historically the events are not the same, but the results are. If we do not learn the lessons of history, we are doomed to repeat it over and over and over. It may not be the KKK now, but this Riveting, infuriating and a little depressing. Reading about the uphill climbs for justice in America a little more than 60 years ago. Flagrant disregard and devaluing of people. The notion of bullies w/ the full, crazed and deputized forces of the KKK to terrorize black people. Timely because maybe historically the events are not the same, but the results are. If we do not learn the lessons of history, we are doomed to repeat it over and over and over. It may not be the KKK now, but this groupthink/fear of the "other" can provide justification for anything. As the old saying goes, evil triumphs when good men do nothing (not that there were a whole lot of good men in Lake County Fla at that time). (view spoiler)[In this book, the victory was that the obviously innocent men were not killed in the electric chair. But to save face the Sheriff himself killed 2 out of the four accused men and attempted to kill a third man. Instead the innocent men that survived got to go to jail for 15 years. That is the positive outcome in this book. And to put a fine point on the state of justice in FLA, the Sheriff who orchestrated the events in Lake County (who is written as really evil and I believe it to be true because the author includes his bile filled letters to the Governor and other officials as well as testimony from former allies), reigns until 1972. (hide spoiler)]

The book itself is excellent. It is written almost like a novel and the author doesn't waste words. There is a ton of information in each sentence and the cast of characters is large. The book requires a reader's full attention. However, that isn't difficult because it is so well written. I learned quite a bit. I also enjoyed the book for doing an excellent job in outlining the depths of commitment and dedication from so many unheralded people. I am now a huge Thurgood Marshall fan. I think had he been born 60 years later, we'd be looking at him for higher office (though he did pretty good for his time). This was a man who could talk to any/all audiences. A man with tremendous intelligence, wily and cunning, good natured, quick witted, quite skilled both as a lawyer and in public relations. The NAACP could have been far less effective had it not been for his leadership. An amazing man backed by quite a few amazing men and women who are almost footnotes/lost in the history. Books like this remind me that there were so many people who gave everything they had for racial fairness and equality. The list of leaders goes well beyond Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X and Thurgood Marshall. A really great, intense, riveting, and informative book.

5 stars ...more
3

Jun 22, 2013

This is a sadly typical southern case--a false rape accusation, lynching attempts, local good old boy sheriff, the city newspaper fanning the flames irresponsibly, local industry dependent on docile and obedient black workforce in the orange groves, all-white juries, local Klan chapters and victories that came in getting life sentences rather than the electric chair. In 1951, Thurgood Marshall and several other NAACP legal defense fund stars risked their lives to go to Florida and intervene, This is a sadly typical southern case--a false rape accusation, lynching attempts, local good old boy sheriff, the city newspaper fanning the flames irresponsibly, local industry dependent on docile and obedient black workforce in the orange groves, all-white juries, local Klan chapters and victories that came in getting life sentences rather than the electric chair. In 1951, Thurgood Marshall and several other NAACP legal defense fund stars risked their lives to go to Florida and intervene, although they were simultaneously pursuing that cases that would eventually lead to Brown v. Board of Education. King is determined to give every detail, structured in flashes backwards and forwards that are unnecessary--this is a senseless tragedy of structural bigotry and would have a far greater effect if the narrative hadn't been hidden under all the accumulation of King's research and heavy hand. I realize this won the Pulitzer Prize, probably for a story that needed to be told, but this is just leaden prose and cluttered storytelling that obscure the power of the event. ...more
5

Jan 23, 2013

Brutally honest account of a reign of terror in central Florida.
Well-researched and very accessible to read - talks not just to big players but also to the lesser known heroes. Focus on the Groveland incident but also seamlessly informs on the broader events in Florida and the United States.

A MUST read for all interested in American history.
4

Apr 21, 2013

Just won Pulitzer for nonfiction and much deserved. Riveting. Horrifying. Great research and insights into Thurgood Marshall during the fifties. The book bogged down a bit 3/4 of the way through....the legal issues in themselves aren't that interesting.
5

Jan 17, 2013

This is a great read and a deep and deeply disturbing book. Author Gilbert King does a masterful job of highlighting a defining case in the life and career of Thurgood Marshall as well as an underappreciated episode in our national stuggle for civil and human rights. Along the way, readers are exposed to the full range of our humanity - from the unconscionably evil to the truly innocent and all gradations in between - as well as to the opportunity to reflect on the progress we have made as a This is a great read and a deep and deeply disturbing book. Author Gilbert King does a masterful job of highlighting a defining case in the life and career of Thurgood Marshall as well as an underappreciated episode in our national stuggle for civil and human rights. Along the way, readers are exposed to the full range of our humanity - from the unconscionably evil to the truly innocent and all gradations in between - as well as to the opportunity to reflect on the progress we have made as a society in the past 60 years.

The Groveland Boys were four innocent Negroes who were framed for a rape that never occurred. The story of their interactions with the legal system of Central Florida - and eventually our appellate court system - is as tragic as it is disturbing. Sadly, it shouldn't surprise that the mere accusation of rape by a young southern white woman at mid-century generated an almost automatic response: (usually random) Negro suspects would be rounded up, railroaded by a local justice system that presumed their guilt and then executed (after state-level appeals courts rubberstamped the capital case decision). A few of these would have their appeals heard by the US Supreme Court and their executions stayed and/or commuted, but far more innocent men were rushed to judgment on the way to the hereafter without recourse.

(Spoiler alert: skip this next paragraph if you don't want to know about the outline of the case.)

In the 1949 Groveland, Florida, case, four Negro men - two pairs of friends who did not know each other - were rounded up after a distressingly baseless accusation by a local teenage wife in a troubled marriage. After a race riot in the town in which local leaders and law enforcement officers participated to exact retribution on the area's Negro population and a manhunt by a 1000-person posse that resulted in the supposedly unavoidably fatal shooting of the fourth suspect, the remaining three were beaten mercilessly to extract confessions - which two of them gave in order to end assaults so brutal that they likely would have continued until they proved fatal - and then tried and convicted on the flimsiest of evidence and sentenced severely - two to death by electrocution and the other (in a rare tacit acknowledgement of his likely innocence) to a life sentence. The NAACP became involved because of the egregiousness of the case - there was scant evidence other than the coerced confessions - which resulted in appeals to the Florida and US Supreme Courts and a retrial for two of the accused (as the third decided not to appeal in order not to expose himself to a likely death sentence upon an equally likely re-conviction). In the process of being retried, both of the remaining appellants are shot during an alleged escape attempt. The cold-blooded murderer turns out to be the local sheriff, assisted by his equally venal deputy, who makes an unfortunate (or, actually, fortunate) mistake: one of the suspects survives his putative execution (despite a final kill shot intended to finish him off that fails to do so when the convict is first discovered to be clinging to life). The remaining Groveland Boy is then re-tried (in what is in effect a kangaroo court in an adjacent county), re-convicted and re-sentenced to death, but this time his US Supreme Court appeal is denied. Only the public outcry against the travesty of justice in the case leads to his sentence eventually being commuted to life in prison by a newly installed governor intent on cleaning up the state's severely tarnished image in order to continue to encourage the economic explosion that's occuring there at the time. In a sad but predictable coda to the story, after serving two decades in prison for a crime that he did not commit (because it never occurred), and most of this time on death row, the recently paroled convict returns to Lake County for a brief visit with tragic results.

The book has a dual storyline: one strain is about the case and its milieu and the other is about Thurgood Marshall, his leadership of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and his development into a (if not the) leader in the first phase of the US Civil Rights Movement. The reality is that the latter aspect of the storyline, ostensibly a biography of one of the singular shapers of 20th century American history, is primarily focused on his professional life, while the former is a gripping (and therefore terrifying) exploration of the brutual realities of race in the mid-century American South. The Marshall biography is good, but the story of the Negro American experience is great: as profound as it is tragic. Simply put, the racism of the American South was as sadistic a regime as any other that we now decry (e.g., the Third Reich, the bloody Maoist Cultural Revolution in China, the Khmer Rouge, etc.) but ironically probably less well known and understood than the others (in no small part, I suspect, because it's far easier for us to judge external evils than our own).

So this is truly a fascinating (if appalling) story and because it's so well-written it becomes a rare experience indeed: it's a non-fiction page-turner. I read it in two days only because I had to stop reading - reluctantly - because my eyes got tired on the first. I literally couldn't put it down until I couldn't see anymore. In a word, it was a great book/read.

Until the last chapter, which, rather than being a comprehensive summation of a well-developed narrative feels more like an abbreviated (and therefore unsatisfying) coda to an otherwise incredible and extensively relayed story. And I would have liked a few more pictures. Those are about the only two minor quibbles that I can make relative to an otherwise outstanding effort.

In the end, I came to know and appreciate Thurgood Marshall and his role in our national journey a good deal more and I was blown away by learning about the reality of the Groveland case (of which I had heard but knew little previously). Having read about other 20th century American race tragedies like those in Rosewood (FL) and Tulsa (OK), I was familiar with the moral and legal corruption of the South in that era. But this book is so well-written that it felt like being there: I could feel the abject fear of the soon-to-be tortured suspects, the seething outrage of those of evolving conscience in response to the craven immorality of the local law enforcement and the celebrate-now-before-we-have-to-get-back-to-serious-and-dangerous-work abandon of the beleaguered but often jubilant NAACP LDF legal team.

I am still haunted by the profundity of the pathos and tragedy of this story. And I have an almost involuntarily deeper appreciation for the largely silent suffering of the millions of African-Americans of that era - even though I have studied this aspect of our national history for decades now - because this book sears the incidents into the reader's consciousness because of its profoundly moving vividity and acuity. In a word, it's deep: well-told and hauntingly so. I almost wish that I hadn't learned so much about this story, because now that I know it I feel compelled to be significantly more dismayed at the inhumanity of our society just a few generations ago. And yet I take some measure of comfort that a number of the white protagonists in this story were themselves so appalled by it that they (eventually) evolved beyond the hateful ethos of their milieu. To put it numerically, I take a 3-level of comfort, but I am disturbed at something that feels more like 9 or 10. And that's what great writing does, I guess. As ultimately disturbed as I am, I'm also thankful for the experience and this costly awareness as it will lead me to go forward differently and better as a member of a different time with its own challenges, a significant number of which are still race-affected if not race-based.

To sum it up, I recommend this book highly to those seeking a great read, to students of American and African-American history, to non-fiction readers looking for a compelling story and to fiction aficionados willing to experience something rare: non-fiction that reads like a great (if tragic) novel. ...more
5

Oct 24, 2013

To give this book anything less than four stars would be beyond me. Why do I seek these emotionally, kick my ass books out? I'm addicted to hard facts and truths, not romanticized bull, I suppose. This book was a vivid and detailed account of four Groveland black men that were falsely accused of rape by a white woman and the evil and horrors that spiraled over from these false accusations. This book made me immensely sad in a lot of parts, the horrors that mostly black men faced in the south was To give this book anything less than four stars would be beyond me. Why do I seek these emotionally, kick my ass books out? I'm addicted to hard facts and truths, not romanticized bull, I suppose. This book was a vivid and detailed account of four Groveland black men that were falsely accused of rape by a white woman and the evil and horrors that spiraled over from these false accusations. This book made me immensely sad in a lot of parts, the horrors that mostly black men faced in the south was apprehensible and appalling. The evil that a small group of people who then can spread the cancer of hate outwards onto others is such a baffling phenomenon and psychology of the human psyche I have a hard time fully grasping. It's such an easy task to accomplish, in small circles at work, towns, cultures, or the mindset of a group of collective people. Hate is such an easy feeling to have and let grow and conquer so many minds, yet the damages of hate and bigotry are always fought by a small group of people who risk their lives and livelihood before the masses wake up and join in to eradicate the hate. Point blank, Fuck hate. This book, again, kicked my ass, but it also reinforced my ideas that if I'm the minority in opinions that go against the grain of people's chosen ignorance and bigotry, then I'm on the right course. ...more
5

Feb 29, 2012

Evaluation: This is a book that should be required reading. This horrifying, edge-of-your-seat tale really happened, and not that long ago. Its repercussions helped make the country what it is today. The author, who unearthed FBI files under seal for sixty years, has done an outstanding job in telling this story which manages to be heart-breaking, inspiring, infuriating, and admirable all at once.

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