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

devilbookcover.phpI love it when I read a book and it leads me to another book and another, etc.  A few years ago I read the award winning book Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Isabel Wilkerson. It was indeed epic as Wilkerson followed the lives of three individuals leaving the Jim Crow Era South for a better life elsewhere. One of the gentleman was leaving the volatile citrus groves of Florida. She made mention of the Groveland case (Florida) as an example of the danger faced by African American men in the South and I filed that away in my brain, hoping to find out more one day.

As a result, I finally picked up the Pulitzer prize-winning book Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America by Gilbert King and it is much more than an account of the trial of three young African-American men accused of kidnapping and raping a white woman in rural 1948 Florida. It is a detailed glimpse in the complex machinations of the Civil Rights Movement as played out in the courtroom. Many things impress me about this book. As always, I am astounded by the cruelty of the Jim Crow era South. Freedom from slavery was an important first step towards equality for African Americans, but given the discrimination faced in the years after slavery was abolished, it really seems like more of a baby step. This book was also a reminder that the landmark Plessy vs Ferguson (1896 Supreme Court decision providing a legal basis for “separate but equal” segregation) was a tremendous hindrance on the path to equality since “equal” is a subjective term that never actual measured up. Thurgood Marshall’s landmark case Brown v. Board of Education (1954 Supreme Court decision disallowing school segregation) was the result of years of planning and small victories that ultimately overturned Plessy v. Ferguson. I just had no real understanding of the complex planning it took to make it to that one important case.

Thurgood Marshall (chief counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund) and the NAACP frequently took on lots of cases like the Groveland Boys (often referred to as “Little Scottsboro” in comparison to a similar case in Alabama 15 years earlier). Their strategy was never acquittal but to kick the case up to higher courts through appeals with a decision that not only acquits the innocent but also has broader significance to civil rights with each case building on top of one another.

If you think this book sounds like a somewhat interesting, but probably overly detailed academic snooze fest you are wrong. Devil in the Grove is a well-written, accessible and at times, a page-turner. Gilbert King is comprehensive as he explores this unbelievable and sad event in American history.

In addition to Devil in the Grove, I also do recommend the above mentioned Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. If you are looking for a shorter read about the Civil Rights Movement, I cannot say enough wonderful things about March (Book One) by John Robert LewisAndrew Aydin and Nate Powell which is a graphic memoir about non-violence during the Civil Rights Movement.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

 

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One Response to “Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America by Gilbert King”

  1. Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2014: Amy W’s Picks | Wake County Libraries "Book a Day" Staff Pick Says:

    […] Devil in the Grove by Gilbert King The Pulitzer prize-winning book is Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America by Gilbert King and it is much more than an account of the trial of three young African-American men accused of kidnapping and raping a white woman in rural 1948 Florida. It is a detailed glimpse in the complex machinations of the Civil Rights Movement as played out in the courtroom. Marshall’s landmark case Brown v. Board of Education (1954 Supreme Court decision disallowing school segregation) was the result of years of planning and small victories that ultimately overturned Plessy v. Ferguson. I just had no real understanding of the complex planning it took to make it to that one important case. Thurgood Marshall (chief counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund) and the NAACP frequently took on lots of cases like the Groveland Boys. Their strategy was never acquittal but to kick the case up to higher courts through appeals with a decision that not only acquits the innocent but also has broader significance to civil rights with each case building on top of one another. If you think this book sounds like a somewhat interesting, but probably overly detailed academic snooze fest you are wrong. Devil in the Grove is a well-written, accessible and at times, a page-turner.  See my full review. […]

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