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112 of 116 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified 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.

But most of all we meet the men who stood up and dared to fight back, sacrificing family, health and safety to do so - Charles Hamilton Houston, Franklin Williams, and main character future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Gilbert does not shy away from these men's faults; they had their fair share of internal squabbles and personality conflicts, and Marshall at least was a hard-drinker who wasn't exactly faithful in marriage. Nevertheless, despite not being saints, these men put it all on the line and they, among many other civil rights crusaders, deserve the lion's share of the credit for the advances in justice and equality. As head of the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund, Marshall was involved in many facets of civil rights law, from criminal cases involving wrongfully accused blacks to segregation cases at schools and universities, to his most famous case (or, really, collection of cases), Brown v. the Board of Education. But the Groveland case, little know though it is, ,was probably Marshall's most formative case, and the one he took most personally.

If you like epic tales of good vs. evil, this is your book. If you like edge of your seat thrillers, this is your book. If you like stories with genuine, three-dimensional characters, this is your book. (Note: I would say "believable characters", but Sheriff McCall, his henchmen and supporters are so wildly extreme that, were they characters in a fiction book, they would be deemed unbelievable.) You will bite your fingernails to the nub worrying for the Groveland Boys and cheering for Marshall, his team of lawyers and other sympathizers as they risk their lives in the hostile territory south of the South. You'll witness false accusations, evidence tampering, forced confessions, threats of and actual violence, jury stacking, witness tampering, and nearly every form of legal malpractice in the single-minded goal of protecting the "Flower of Southern Womanhood" and securing "justice" against the "perpetrators". But be warned, if you like nice, tidy, happily-ever-after good-defeats-evil stories, this is not your book. This is a tale of senseless violence and oppression. The story of the deaths of three innocent black youths in the prime of their otherwise promising lives. It's the story of the deaths of a civil rights leader and his wife, and the violence and intimidation against countless others. It's the story of the Teflon sheriff who ruled Lake County for another twenty years, despite countless other accusations of misconduct and corruption.

But this isn't even just the story of the "Groveland Boys" case. It is the story of the world's emerging superpower, the beacon of justice and democracy to the world, and how that superpower turned a blind eye to the injustices routinely inflicted on black citizens throughout the Jim Crow South. In addition the Groveland case, Gilbert King recounts dozens of similar and related cases from all over the South. From race riots to lynchings to rape to discrimination of all types, King puts the lie to the oft-repeated protest of the South that it was Northern/NAACP/communist/etc. agitators who stirred up otherwise peaceful Southern race relations. And no, things weren't always rosy in the North either, but Marshall and his colleagues didn't fear for their lives, and when black butler Joseph Spell was accused of raping his white employer, he received a fair trial and was acquitted in Connecticut, something that could not and did not happen below the Mason-Dixon line.

If you need a silver lining to an otherwise very dark cloud, it comes from the fact that the very barbarity of this and similar cases paved the way for justice to slowly trickle in. There is, perhaps, a limit to the inhumanity that human nature will bear, and as publicity of these kinds of cases grew, so too did public outrage. Like Mabel Norris Reese, Americans North and South began rethinking their deeply held beliefs regarding race and race relations. At the same time, the diligent and careful legal work of people like Houston and Marshall began setting enough precedents that by 1954 cases like Brown v. the Board of Education could overturn the legal framework supporting Jim Crow. These changes came too late to save Ernest Thomas, Samuel Shepherd and Walter Irvin (and to save co-defendant Charles Greenlee from an undeserved stint at hard labor), but they came in time to see Thurgood Marshall promoted to the highest court in the land, where he presided over an unparalleled period of civil rights growth in the nation's history.

This book should be required reading for high school and college students, as well as adults. Now that we have our first black president, there are those who would whitewash the struggles it took to get here and deny that there is much left to improve. Power of the kind wielded by Sheriff Willis McCall and supported by like-minded people as well as decent but unthinking people doesn't cede easily and, when forced out, it looks for ways to turn public opinion back to itself and restore itself to its "rightful" place. It is important that all Americans know the truth about where the struggle began and how much it has cost to right the wrongs of the past I order that we not fall prey to the same mindset that caused such oppressive division in the first place. Gilbert King has done us a great service by providing this rich and detailed history of one of the darkest chapters in our history so that this "post-racial" world can learn from history and not repeat it.
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55 of 59 people found the following review helpful
on March 19, 2012
Format: HardcoverVerified 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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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
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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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on March 25, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This book is completely absorbing, providing a powerful account of how the racial caste system of Florida in the immediate post-World War II years led to hideous injustice against four young black men who were falsely accused of raping a white woman. The author puts the tragic story into the context of the economic power of rising barons of Florida's citrus farms, with Florida orange juice newly dominating a market once led by California. This led to efforts, aided and abetted by county sheriffs, to push black workers into peonage. Any black workers who raised their heads and tried to create better futures for their children through buying land or establishing small businesses were vulnerable to extreme backlash by the joint forces of the KKK and local law enforcement. The tensions were further increased by the desire of returning black veterans to claim political rights and a share in the democracy for which the war had ostensibly been fought. In this combustible mix, four young black men were targeted by whites for allegedly raping a white woman; one was shot dead and the other three barely escaped lynching. Their case came to the attention of the national NAACP and the book focuses on the efforts of Thurgood Marshall and other NAACP lawyers to save the young men as they faced trial in a legal system designed to railroad them. The book shows the courage and difficulties of the NAACP lawyers and their rivalries as they strove for public attention and the ability to argue cases before the Supreme Court. It also puts the case into the context of the NAACP's struggle to end segregation in the schools and in other public arenas, with these broader issues creating competing claims for resources.

This book is clear, very well researched, and provides an unforgettable picture of the workings of the racial caste system and its terrible costs.
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68 of 85 people found the following review helpful
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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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on February 13, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified 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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57 of 72 people found the following review helpful
on March 28, 2012
Format: HardcoverVerified 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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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on January 30, 2013
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This is an account of Thurgood Marshall's defense of three African American young men charged with raping a white woman in her late teens in Florida in 1949 (a fourth man alleged to have taken part in the rape was shot and killed by law enforcement before reaching trial). It spans the period from the time of the rape to the middle of the 1950's when Marshall successfully argued on behalf of school desegregation before the U.S. Supreme Court. Marshall's work in defense of the young men in fact occured more or less simultaneously with his work (along with colleagues of the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund) in the Brown vs. Board of Ed cases. It is thus a remarkable story about a remarkable man who helped change the course of American history in the latter half of the last century.

It is also obviously a story of the segregated U.S. South, complete with corrupt law enforcement officials, roving bands of White mobs and the KKK who endeavored not only to keep the races separate in accomodations, but also greatly resisted any advance made by African Americans in the region. Fortunately, Devil in the Grove reveals a few cases of redemption involving White southerners whose minds are changed about the Black defendants through Marshall's advocacy.

Besides Marshall, Devil in the Grove highlights a number of other key individuals such as Franklin Williams and Marshall's mentor, Charles Houston, all active in the NAACP. Another NAACP leader in Florida, Harry T. Moore and his wife were killed in a bombing of their house during the events relating to the Groveland Boys' case and their murder has never been officially solved.

The narrative itself gets off to a bit of a rough start, at least it seemed to me. The first quarter or third of the book jumps around a lot. The early pages frequently shift years, locations and personalities involved. However, by the book's second half, the narrative is up and roaring along, telling a story difficult to put down. Overall a great read of an important man and mostly forgotten story that fully warranted the retelling provided here.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on June 21, 2014
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
I'm an attorney and most would think all attorneys know everything about Supreme Court justices. I remember Thurgood Marshall, and I wasn't too wild about him while he was on the Supreme Court toward the end of his term because I thought he was just another liberal. Really, all I knew about him was that he was a former civil rights attorney.

I just read this book and man have my opinions on Thurgood Marshall have changed! He wasn't just a civil rights attorney,he was a brave and courageous civil rights attorney who journeyed into the Jim Crow south to represent black defendants accused of crimes. It's one thing to be a civil rights attorney and it's another thing to walk the walk.

His involvement in the Groveland Boys case and others shows what Thurgood Marshall was made of. I have to admit I am embarrassed I did not Marshall's past.

This book is well written and you will find some heroes here other than Thurgood Marshall, You will also learn about the worst of the worst of humanity, for example Sheriff Willis McCall of Lake County, Florida and Norma Padgett.

Once you read this, you will have a much better appreciation for Justice Marshall and his colleagues. These guys were really courageous.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on December 13, 2012
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Great informitive book and exciting to read; was hard to put down it was so good. I could visualize the events in the book
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