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Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America Hardcover – March 6, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


"Must-read, cannot-put-down history." (New York Times)

“A powerful and well-told drama of Southern injustice.” (Chicago Tribune)

"Suspenseful and historically meticulous." (Christian Science Monitor)

"Deliver(s) the shock of a crime thriller." (Associated Press)

"A taut, intensely readable narrative." (Boston Globe)

“Gilbert King's Devil in the Grove recreates an important yet overlooked moment in American history with a chilling, atmospheric narrative that reads more like a Southern Gothic novel than a work of history.” (Salon)

“(An) excellent telling of one of the most difficult cases Thurgood Marshall ever argued...An important, and hopefully never forgotten, chapter of American history.” (The Seattle Times)

“King traces the pernicious tentacles of bigotry and expertly depicts the role of the press, the cast of characters and the entire contextual story of civil-rights law and the NAACP. Deeply researched and superbly composed.” (Kirkus, Starred Review) 

"Very few books combine the depth of research and narrative power about a subject of such pivotal significance.” (Ira Katznelson, author of When Affirmative Action Was White)

"In the terrifying story of the Groveland boys Gilbert King recreates an extraordinary moment in America's long, hard struggle for racial justice. Devil in the Grove is a harrowing, haunting, utterly mesmerizing book." (Kevin Boyle, author of Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age)

"The tragic Groveland saga -- with its Faulknerian echoes of racial injustice spinning around an accusation of rape -- comes astonishingly alive in Gilbert King's narrative. It is both heartbreaking and unforgettable." (Wil Haygood, author of King of the Cats: The Life and Times of Adam Clayton Powell Jr.)

From the Back Cover

Devil in the Grove is the winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction.

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


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First Edition first Printing edition (March 6, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061792284
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061792281
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (664 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #62,680 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Gilbert King is the author of the New York Times bestseller, Devil in the Grove, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction in 2013. He has written about the Supreme Court and the death penalty for the New York Times and the Washington Post, as well as history for Smithsonian magazine. Devil in the Grove was also a finalist for the Chautauqua Prize, nominated for an Edgar Award for best fact crime, and the nonfiction runner-up for the 2013 Dayton Literary Peace Prize. Lionsgate has acquired the rights for the film, which is slated for 2015. King's previous book, The Execution of Willie Francis was published in 2008. He lives in New York City with his wife, two daughters, and a French bulldog named Louis. For more information, please go to

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

134 of 140 people found the following review helpful By Dienne TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 7, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I don't often use the phrase "tour de force", but if it isn't applicable to this book, I don't know when it would be. Gilbert King has delivered a solid, in depth, thoroughly researched tome on not only one of the most brutal (although, sadly, little known) civil rights cases in American history, but also a thorough survey on the state of race relations in the American South in the late 1940s and early 1950s. For anyone who has ever wondered exactly what the "Southern Way of Life" is, you need look no further than this hate-fueled tale of widespread murder and mayhem.

In a surprisingly slim, albeit dense, 360 pages (of text, plus notes, etc.), King manages to paint a rich, detailed, sickening and enraging picture of Southern "justice" in the Sunshine State. The unsupported word of a white woman (girl, really, whom few really believe) and that of her drunken on-again, off-again husband launch a series of events that leave two young black men dead - one hunted like a dog, the other shot in cold blood - along with two more wrongfully jailed, one on death row. Along the way we witness the racial intimidation and violence of the KKK, the death by firebombing of civil rights leader Harry T. Moore, and the slow turning of the wheels of justice in the nation's highest court. Also along the way we meet the prosecutor, Jesse Hunter, who comes to believe in the innocence of the "Groveland Boys", yet who prosecutes them anyway; the born and bred Southern journalist Mabel Norris Reese whose slow change of heart gets her labeled a "pinko"; and the Southern sheriff in charge of it all, Willis McCall.
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59 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Irish Girl on March 19, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Gilbert King is to be commended for this accomplishment. His writing style is masterful and his extensive research is exhaustive and thorough. One can only wonder why this case has not been dissected in the past. I continually had to remind myself that this was not a true crime novel but a non-fiction book depicting the worst of the Jim Crow era. Mr. King's remarkable style leaves the reader somewhat breathless in its wake and he is to be commended for offering us a work that will, no doubt, be a classic study of Thurgood Marshall's diligent work, through the courts, to attain equal rights for all Americans.
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Traveler on March 12, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Only wish I could rate DEVIL IN THE GROVE higher than five stars! Thought Mr.King's "Execution of Willie Francis" was a great read but this is even better - if that's possible. Mr. King has perfected the art of writing about historical events that result in the reader feeling that she/he is right on the scene as these events unfold. Should be required reading for today's students. What's next, Mr. King??? I can hardly wait.
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72 of 91 people found the following review helpful By Michael Engel on March 24, 2012
Format: Hardcover
As I write this review, there is a nationwide controversy over the shooting of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, where local law enforcement officials have justified the murder as "self-defense".

Sanford is a half-hour drive from Groveland, where the story told by this superb book took place. And the events in both cases are eerily similar. Racism is by no means dead, the election of Barack Obama notwithstanding.

That said, I will simply add that I could not put this book down. I was enthralled. It is a skillfully written, heart-rending, yet inspiring narrative about the struggle led by Thurgood Marshall and others, who risked their lives to create a "new America".

The one negative feeling I was left with is the realization that courageous and self-sacrificing leadership of this kind in our times in America is sadly lacking. IMHO, this is particularly true among those who need it the most, such as the black community. To be more specific, those at the top today--and I include the President--hardly bear comparison to the likes of Thurgood Marshall. If you disagree with that assessment, read this book to understand the real meaning of what is involved in creating "change we can believe in".

Actually, read it anyway, no matter what your point of view. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Marsha on February 13, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Having been born and lived in the south for almost 70 years, moving from Virginia to Florida spured my constant curiosity about the history of segregation and the Civil Rights movement. As a self imposted student of the history of both states, I have read many books about the subject after living through it as a bystander all these years. Now, after reading Devil in the Grove, which took place mostly in Florida, I feel sad and ashamed of our nation's treatment of the blacks and cried many times while reading and gaining more empathy for others, no matter what color. I highly recommend this book and marvel that we have reached a pinnacle with an African-American in the White House. Read it and realize we have come a long way, but have a long road ahead, too..
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58 of 75 people found the following review helpful By Bill Emblom on March 28, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Five stars indicate that I "love" the book. I can't say that I love it, because it disgusts me to think that "my country tis of thee sweet land of liberty" carries the stigma of such ignoramuses as found in this book. Characters such as Sheriff Willis McCall, jailer Reuben Hatcher, Norma Padgett, and whittlin' Judge Truman Futch disgrace themselves and the entire country throughout these pages.

Narrow-minded bigots feel that Negro veterans from World War II are displaying an "uppity" attitude when they wear their uniforms after returning from service to their country. How dare they have the audacity, the nerve, the gall to even think they are equal to us superior (really ignorant) whites?

In 1949 four Negro individuals were wrongly accused of assaulting Norma Padgett, one immediately murdered and the remaining three beaten until they "confessed" to a crime they didn't commit or even never happened. Southern justice! Thurgood Marshall defended the remaining three, and the details of what took place will, or at least should, simply disgust you.

It's a good thing we no longer behave like this, right? We can rationalize that those bigots back then were victims of their times. We haven't progressed as much as we'd like to think. We recently witnessed an adult who felt "threatened" chasing down a young boy named Trayvon Martin and shooting him to death. We not only haven't progressed as much as we'd like to think we have, but we are in danger of reverting back to those blissful Ozzie and Harriet days (for white people). If nothing else this book should raise your blood pressure.
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