The late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall never forgot his defense of the Groveland Boys, four young black men falsely accused of raping a white woman…This book is a brilliant account of that time.”
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
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.
#BlackHistoryBooks 12: Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America by Gilbert King
This book is part true crime and part history. It focuses on the 1949 trial of the “Groveland Boys” who were wrongfully accused of raping a white woman and on their lawyer, Thurgood Marshall, who became the first African-American to sit on the Supreme Court. Groveland, Florida (which is near Orlando) isn’t the type of place we typically picture horrific events like these happening. And, in light of recent news involving police brutality and misconduct, it’s important to remember our past so we are not doomed to repeat it.
Two days ago I posted the Mountains in the Mist Picture Prompt and yesterday fully intended on writing my own response for you to read. Obviously that didn’t happen. But I feel like I’ve got a pretty good excuse.
Learn About Thurgood Marshall, the NAACP, and One of the vital Such a lot Influential Civil Rights Felony Instances in American Historical past in a Fraction of the Time! Thurgood Marshall rides the teach within the Jim Crow automotive (the only right away at the back of the engine) to the American South to protect yet any other black citizen in courtroom. Marshall, who was once the grandson of a…
Have you ever done something without thinking about it and then, after thinking about it, realize that what you did was incredibly awesome? I’m not trying to brag (I’m totally bragging), but I did something on a whim the other night at work that turned into a spectacular idea. Disclaimer: This idea is something that only a book worm/literary studies major like myself is going to get worked up…