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Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the…

Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of… (2012)

by Gilbert King

Other authors: Peter Francis James

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4492833,078 (4.39)89
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    Scottsboro by Ellen Feldman (sjmccreary)
    sjmccreary: a novel about the 1931 Alabama case that was mentioned several times in the book

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This is a very worthy book, but an unusual one to categorize. On one hand, it very title suggests being offered as a crime story, much like Hampton Sides', Hellhound on His Trail, and, indeed, it starts off that way. On the other hand, there is much coverage of the NAACP and its internal politics, plus that organization's interactions with other civil rights organizations. To that extent, the book shifts more to being a classic history text. The transitions during the first part of the book are not always as smooth as they could be. Yet, ultimately, once all the ground work has been laid out for the reader -- what were Thurgood Marshall and his associates working on and under what conditions were the working -- the narrative flows much more evenly. In the end, the book seems more a political corruption analysis than either a crime story or civil rights history. I also had the distinct impression that the author would have preferred to have written an exciting story about Thurgood Marshall and the monumental Brown v. Board of Education case, but found this was the best way to get across to the reader why Justice Marshall was such a unique and significant American. The Groveland Boys case offered itself more easily to showing the main character in action while amply demonstrating his intelligence and skills. I should also add that, having read several books about civil rights violations and struggles in the Deep South, this book shows some nuances of Southern life interracial dynamics that other worthy books have failed to do as well. Despite its complexities, this book is definitely recommended. ( )
  larryerick | Apr 26, 2018 |
Thurgood Marshall's role as an NAACP lawyer brings him to Groveland, Fla., to defend three African American boys accused of rape in 1949's Jim Crow South. This recounting tells of Marshall and his coworkers, their fear of travelling south, the role of the press in advertising the case to Northerners, and the extraordinary courage of Harry and Harriet Moore who were "the first martyrs of the Civil Rights struggle." Despite the importance of the case, the Groveland defendants themselves did not fare well, thanks to Willy McCall, a Southern sheriff straight out of central casting. Not an easy read. But you already knew that, didn't you? ( )
  LaurelPoe | Dec 25, 2017 |
Reading the history of Thurgood Marshall's intervention to save 4 black men from going to the electric chair for a rape they did not commit is especially poignant in view of the racial injustice we have been experiencing in our country this past year. When will it ever stop?!

Devil in the Grove is a well-researched look at how people of color were treated (mostly in the southern states and particularly in Florida) in the late 1940s and early '50s. The story fills a gap in the history of our country that I, as a child of the '60s, did not learn in school. Thurgood Marshall was a lawyer for the NAACP who lead the fight to desegregate schools and provide "equal protection under the law" for people of color. He had to battle the virulent and violent racism that characterized a substantial portion of white society that controlled law enforcement and the courts. Sheriff by day, KKK by night! Truly horrific. Marshall and other lawyers involved in the Groveland case risked their lives every time they went to Florida to try and save these young men. They succeeded in exposing the completely fabricated judicial system that operated in much of the South. I don't know enough to presume more than what the book describes regarding how widespread miscarriages of justice were outside the South but my heart breaks with the thought that supposedly normal human beings could be so cruel and heartless.

— review in progress; will finish soon ( )
  krazy4katz | Jul 10, 2016 |
In this 2013 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction, Devil in the Grove is about Thurgood Marshall's ("Mr Civil Rights" and arguably one of the best lawyers of the 20th century) work to save three black men accused of gang raping a 17 year old girl.

Gilbert King did an amazing amount of research for this book including reading the FBI's Groveland case files and the NAACP's legal defense files - and this research really shone through. His prose was acerbic at times, and it flowed smoothly keeping my interest the whole way through. Devil in the Grove gave a lot of background information on Thurgood Marshall's life outside of the of the trial, thus bringing a personal light to the story. Gilbert also included stories about KKK activities against lawyers who defended black people accused of rape, which was terrifying and disgusting.

Overall, a fantastic book. Read it. ( )
  The_Hibernator | Feb 5, 2016 |
This is an important book (it won the 2013 Pulitzer for Nonfiction), and I'm going to recommend it because of the importance of its subject matter. It tells an eye-opening and thrilling story. However, it does so in a confusing and convoluted way. I found it to be, for the most part, extremely disorganized and poorly written, and I couldn't believe that it had won a Pulitzer. I nearly gave up on it many times during the first 100 or so pages. After that it flowed better, but oh how I wish it was more competently written.

In 1949, in Groveland Florida a 17 year old white girl claimed to have been raped by 4 black men, and Sheriff Willis McCall went into action. Four innocent young men were blamed (one of whom was already in police custody for another matter at the time the rape allegedly occurred, but never mind). In short order, three of the young men were arrested and the fourth was killed "resisting arrest."

Riots were instigated by the KKK, and much of the black area of town was burned down. The three arrestees were brutally beaten and tortured, and two of them confessed to the rape; one refused to confess.

At the time the Groveland events were unfolding, future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall was an attorney for the NAACP deeply involved in the case that became the landmark school desegregation case, Brown v. Board of Education. Nevertheless, he signed on to defend the "Groveland Boys," as they were known. Marshall expected to lose the case at the trial level. The NAACP strategy at the time was to get these types of cases overturned at the appellate level, and that's how this case proceeded. The three surviving Groveland Boys were convicted at the trial level; two received the death penalty but one was given "only" a life sentence. Since at the time there was no guarantee that if the case were retried, the defendant who had initially received the life sentence would not then be sentenced to death, that defendant did not appeal.

The convictions of the other two defendants were overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. A few years later, when their cases were to be retried on remand, Sheriff McCall was transporting the two defendants, chained together, from the state penitentiary to the courthouse. McCall made it look like they were trying to escape and shot them both in cold blood. One of the defendants died, but the other lived. While the sheriff was investigated for this blatant act of murder, he was never charged or convicted. Thurgood Marshall called the failure to charge Sheriff McCall, "the worst case of injustice and whitewashing I have come across." McCall continued to be reelected as Groveland's sheriff until 1972, when he was indicted and suspended from office for kicking to death a mentally retarded black prisoner in his cell.

The now one remaining Groveland Boy was convicted on retrial and again sentenced to death. This time the Supreme Court did not overturn the conviction, and the last part of the book is an exciting page turner as we follow the legal maneuverings to attempt to save the final defendant from execution.

Although I've heard of other similar cases that occurred in the first half of the 20th century, I had never heard of the Groveland case. And, although the case went to the Supreme Court more than once, it is rarely mentioned in civil rights histories, law texts, or apparently even in biographies of Thurgood Marshall. At the time it was ongoing, the case itself and the various coverups generated little attention or outrage other than in the black newspapers. Perhaps I'm naïve, but this case shed so much light for me on how evil and corrupt the justice system was (and perhaps still is). It also shed light on how courageous the civil rights workers and lawyers were as they took on these cases, and other types of civil rights issues. (In fact the NAACP rep for the Groveland area died when his house was firebombed on Christmas day before the trial of the Groveland boys. The perpetrators were never found--and there is some suspicion that the sheriff may have had some type of involvement. Langston Hughes wrote a poem about the event: "The Ballad of Harry Moore.")

Again, although this book was for the most part not well-written, I'm going to highly recommend it.

3 1/2 stars ( )
1 vote arubabookwoman | Dec 20, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 28 (next | show all)
“Gilbert King has done a remarkable job of weaving together history, sociology, law and detective work of his own, to reveal facts that even I, one of the defense counsel in the case, had not been aware of until now.” (Jack Greenberg, Alphonse Fletcher Professor of Law, Columbia University, former Director-Counsel, NAACP Legal Defense Fund. )
added by krazy4katz | editAmazon.com, Jack Greenberg

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Gilbert Kingprimary authorall editionscalculated
James, Peter Francissecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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For Lorna, Maddie, and Liv and in memory of Matthew P. (Matty) Boylan
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November 18, 196

"If that son of a bitch contradicts me again, I'm going to wrap a chair around his goddamned head."
There is a law governing the meeting of the races. When a powerful race meets a helpless race, two things happen. First there is a carnival of crime. Cruelty and oppression take place: some men in each race become hard-hearted. But the reverse also happens thereafter; goodness and mercy are developed; certain men become saints and heroes.

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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061792284, Hardcover)

Arguably the most important American lawyer of the twentieth century, Thurgood Marshall was on the verge of bringing the landmark suit Brown v. Board of Education before the U.S. Supreme Court when he became embroiled in an explosive and deadly case that threatened to change the course of the civil rights movement and cost him his life.

In 1949, Florida’s orange industry was booming, and citrus barons got rich on the backs of cheap Jim Crow labor. To maintain order and profits, they turned to Willis V. McCall, a violent sheriff who ruled Lake County with murderous resolve. When a white seventeen-year-old Groveland girl cried rape, McCall was fast on the trail of four young blacks who dared to envision a future for themselves beyond the citrus groves. By 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,” 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.”

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:00 -0400)

In 1949, Florida's orange industry was booming with cheap Jim Crow labor. When a white seventeen-year-old Groveland girl cried rape, vicious Sheriff McCall was fast on the trail of four young blacks who dared to envision a future for themselves. Then the Ku Klux Klan rolled into town, burning homes and chasing hundreds of blacks into the swamps. So began the chain of events that would bring Thurgood Marshall, the man known as "Mr. Civil Rights," into the 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 and Marshall had endured 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 the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund files, King shines new light on this remarkable civil rights crusader against a heroic backdrop.--From publisher description.… (more)

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