devil-in-the-grove

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“…across the South, in their darkest, most demoralizing hours, when falsely accused men sat in jails, when women and children stood before the ashy ruins of mob-torched homes, the spirits of black citizens would be lifted with two words whispered in defiance and hope: “Thurgood’s coming.” –excerpt from Devil in the Grove by Gilbert King (2012).

….or that time Thurgood Marshall put on his fedora and double breasted suit and came down here to little ol Lake County, Florida to kick some Klan ass with Harlem style and panache.

Y'all. I saw this book on the Huffington Post recently and I picked it up immediately. Let me tell you they DO NOT teach this history here. I grew up in the next county over and not once, in my entire scholastic life, had I ever heard that the eminent and much-admired slayer of segregation in Brown vs. Board of Education had ever been here.

Nothing surprising. Much of Lake County is still the same old backward, racist trailer park dungheap where the cops are still in the Klan.

Spike Lee, please make a movie. Make Thurgood smile from heaven. Just sayin.

I do the protecting.

This was such a throw away thing in the middle of everything else, and yet I felt so much that this is the very core of Shaw. It’s one of her thematic statements

If John’s rallying cry was to save people, Shaw carries a similar tone in a different kind of package. Shaw is about protecting people. 

Everything Shaw is working towards is this one goal: to protect people, even if she has to do a lot of ugly math and work to make it happen. 

Its the very core of her. It’s the thing she is and chosen to be despite of her personality disorder, its what she’s been working towards her whole life. Saving and protecting people in her own way. 

Shaw didn’t get the job in the Activity and then with Harold just to satisfy the adrenaline junkie in her. She joined because it was a way to use the things the world saw fit as broken in herself to help people with. 

Or as centaurianthropology put it:

It gives all the defective bits of her, the pieces that have been rejected by society, a reason for being.

As I keep on pointing out, if she was just in it for the money or the adrenaline high Shaw would’ve skipped out of town during the months she was away from the team (I’m sure Shaw’d find a way to quit her job and not draw any attention to it). Instead she stayed in her crappy job, doing weird work with no pay, and the very high chance she could get killed. 

This only solidifies ‘Future Starts Slow’ as Shaw’s anthem even more:

If I ever give you up my heart will surely fail

And after all God can keep my soul
England have my bones
But don’t ever give me up
I could never get back up when the future starts so slow

This is just my rambly rave about how much Shaw’s 'I do the protecting’ stuck me, and this is why I don’t think Shaw could ever join up with Samaritan (sorry, Sarah Shahi!), not with those values set in stone for her. I can see her maybe returning to the Activity, but I don’t think she’ll be satisfied just receiving orders if she does return. 

Shaw has such a certainty about who and what she is, and what she’s willing to do. She protects people, she kills terrorists, and sometimes as a good soldier, she’ll do both. 

In another note, we can also extrapolate the reason why she’s so adamant against protecting her. The last person who protected Shaw died, and that’s still something that stayed with her. 

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

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.  [book link

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Devil in the Grove

The Devil in the Grove

On July 15, 1949, Willie Padgett and his young wife Norma Lee went drinking in Clermont, Florida. The couple was on the rocks: They’d separated before their first anniversary. Norma Lee’s father, Coy Tyson, didn’t hold Willie in high regard, never mind that his daughter had less than a sterling reputation. But the Padgetts were attempting to make it work, and had a night of carousing in mind. Some time after midnight., the two were drunk, stranded on a country road: Willie’s 1940 Ford sedan had a dead battery. Two young African Americans, Samuel Shepherd and Walter Irvin, stopped to help. This chance encounter portended a terrible future for Samuel and Walter. They, along with Charles Greenlee and Ernest Thomas, would be accused of raping Norma Lee Padgett. The intersection of their struggle with the career of renowned freedom fighter Thurgood Marshall provides the basis for Gilbert King’s superb book, The Devil in the Grove.

This 2012 work of non-fiction tells the tale of the Groveland Boys. It makes compelling reading for many reasons. Marshall was a rising legal star, gathering the threads that became the seminal Brown v. Board of Education. But while schools were an point of emphasis in the fight for civil rights, they were not the only platform where African Americans were marginalized. The criminal justice system in the South provided a cruel pantomime of due process. Accused blacks were handed over to lynch mobs. Prisoners were brutally beaten to induce false confessions. And to be accused of rape by a white woman was a guaranteed death sentence. In taking the case of the Groveland Boys, the NAACP hoped to confront and expose their ghoulish circumstances and set them free. The odds were not in their favor, but they had Marshall’s considerable brilliance on their side.

Standing in their way was the closest thing you’ll find to a devil in The Devil in the Grove: Sheriff Willis V. McCall. McCall was the archetype of the terrifying Southern lawman, a hulking brute with absolute control over his dominion. Gilbert King had access to an enormous amount of documentation, including declassified FBI files. He built a well supported timeline, including how the Sheriff and his deputies tortured their captives. McCall’s wrath wasn’t reserved for the accused. King recounts a harrowing episode where his posse chased attorneys out of town at 90 miles per hour. The society around the Sheriff allowed him to exist: He was not forced out of his job until 1972. The author details the complex apparatus that propped Willis up. In a booming citrus town, a country cop could make a lot of money by ensuring work continued. Lawmen rounded up African Americans, then threatened and battered them if they resisted or organized. The context of this book gives the reader a rich picture, explaining the story behind the story. King doesn’t stop at portraying villainy. He lets you know how it happened.

What sets The Devil in the Grove apart is its pace and sequencing. Every event is richly researched and respectfully told. But while many books of non-fiction are dry, Gilbert King makes his story jump off the page. He leaves some exchanges off camera until later in the book to great effect. But this book has several twists that make it worth as the first place you read the Groveland Boys’ stories. The events herein are stunning. The heroism and courage is as inspiring as the inhumanity can be depressing. This is rare non-fiction that reads like a novel. The sooner you pick it up, the better.