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

4.28  ·  Rating Details  ·  5,805 Ratings  ·  794 Reviews
Devil in the Grove, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction, is a gripping true story of racism, murder, rape, and the law. It brings to light one of the most dramatic court cases in American history, and offers a rare and revealing portrait of Thurgood Marshall that the world has never seen before.

As Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns did for the stor
Hardcover, 434 pages
Published March 6th 2012 by Harper
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Joan Wieber Ruth Starr was my husband's aunt and yes, she was Mayor of Holly Hill. She moved to the Daytona area in 1949. Sadly, she, her husband and son have all…moreRuth Starr was my husband's aunt and yes, she was Mayor of Holly Hill. She moved to the Daytona area in 1949. Sadly, she, her husband and son have all died.
By coincidence, I finished the book about a week ago and had no idea about the letter until I finished the book. I think I kept repeating, WOW!
Gilbert King is going to be speaking in our area in a couple of weeks and we going to take Ruth's sister to hear him.
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Best Books Set in or About Florida
25th out of 259 books — 149 voters
The Orchid Thief by Susan OrleanBoat Girl by Melanie NealeDevil in the Grove by Gilbert KingHighway A1A by Herbert L. HillerThe Everglades by Marjory Stoneman Douglas
Florida Nonfiction
3rd out of 43 books — 11 voters

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Community Reviews

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Jul 24, 2013 Scott rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm often struck, when reading a book about race in 20th-century America--Parting the Waters, say, or the amazing Warmth of Other Suns--by how many of the most horrifying, virulently racist events during the Jim Crow/Civil Rights eras took place in Florida. Growing up here in New York in the 1960s and '70s, for some reason (aka, marketing) I guess I still unconsciously associate Florida with Disneyworld, orange juice, and beaches--later: cocaine, gross nightclubs, Seinfeld's parents, stolen elec ...more
Jan 09, 2013 Granny rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I had the misfortune of living in Lake Co., FL for nearly 20 years where this incident took place; I was there a couple of decades after the event, but it was still widely spoken of. Sheriff Willis McCall had god-like status in the area. Men would stand and take off their hats when he passed. The atmosphere was toxic. Well-researched book. Hard for me to read, having witnessed so much of the racism still there in the 1960's-1980's.
Jul 30, 2014 Florence rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In the late 1940s in Lake County Florida, a seventeen year old girl claimed she was raped by four black men. She lied. Her accusations resulted in the torture, death, and imprisonment of men of color who were innocent of any crime. The county sheriff, his deputy, and many of the other citizens belonged to the Ku Klux Klan, an infamous organization of domestic terrorism. They held life and death power over unfortunate prisoners in the county jail. They held influence over the courts. Judges convi ...more
Geoffrey Benn
“Devil in the Grove,” by Gilbert King, is the 2013 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction. It is also one of the most gripping and horrifying books I’ve read in a long time. The book tells the story of the Groveland Boys – four African-American men falsely accused of raping a young Florida woman. The story is that of how the NAACP, led by Thurgood Marshall, attempts to save the lives of the accused men. Their opponents are the entrenched white establishment of Lake county, led by S ...more
Mar 18, 2013 Londa rated it it was amazing
Enlightening! Easily one of the best books I have read this year. It is one thing to learn about the struggle against prejudice and inequality in a textbook, and it is quite another to FEEL as though you are LIVING it. Gilbert King is able to transport his readers back to a time which should not be forgotten. This book is hard to read, but even harder to put down.

King brings Thurgood Marshall to life in a way that I had never seen done before. While I knew that he had done monumental things on
Jul 10, 2014 Elizabeth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My version of a review. What I have thought and felt and experienced.

"Page 90
Gripping and horrifying, and I feel the truth."

07/4"Page 200
Institutionalized racism. The murder of The Groveland Boys, as they became known, took place in Florida, the south, in the late 1940s.

07/07 "page 300"
As I read I find myself questioning whether much has really changed in this country."

"In the postwar decade Florida would…prove to be a state with a boundless capacity for racial inhumanity, even by meas
Sep 21, 2013 Sheila rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am well aware that Devil in the Grove has some flaws, but honestly I could never rate another book with 5 stars if I didn't give five stars to this book.

Gilbert King recounts the story of the Groveland "Boys", four black men falsely accused of rape in Florida in 1948. King backs up the story with detailed background information about the citrus industry in Florida, the Jim Crow South, the internal politics of the NAACP, the relationship of the NAACP to the FBI, Thurgood Marshall's other cases
Mireille Fry
I'm probably in the minority, but this is a really poorly written book on a fascinating combination of topics (The Groveland Case, Civil Rights, and Thurgood Marshall). The main problem is that the author can't seem to decide which topic to focus on, even within a chapter. There are so many loose threads of information started but never completed that I feel as though I've just unraveled one of the most intricately-woven tapestries of American history just by picking up the book.

Secondly, [mild
May 03, 2013 Allison rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Just won Pulitzer for nonfiction and much deserved. Riveting. Horrifying. Great research and insights into Thurgood Marshall during the fifties. The book bogged down a bit 3/4 of the way through....the legal issues in themselves aren't that interesting.
Margaret Sankey
This is a sadly typical southern case--a false rape accusation, lynching attempts, local good old boy sheriff, the city newspaper fanning the flames irresponsibly, local industry dependent on docile and obedient black workforce in the orange groves, all-white juries, local Klan chapters and victories that came in getting life sentences rather than the electric chair. In 1951, Thurgood Marshall and several other NAACP legal defense fund stars risked their lives to go to Florida and intervene, alt ...more
Apr 12, 2016 Donna rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow - one of the best works of history that I've read - as others have said - this reads as a thriller. Only - a very disturbing thriller because it is a true story, and I'm afraid, not as much in the past as the word "history" would indicate.

Jun 03, 2012 Linda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's always amazing to me to see how the Southern states continue to believe the Civil War was never fought. This is another case of 4 black men accused of raping a white woman, although the woman herself (17 at the time) showed no signs of rape, walked into a small restaurant in the early morning and told the owner's son, very calmly, that 4 men had abducted her but she couldn't identify them and that her husband might be lying out there dead.

Suffice it to say, 4 blacks, two of them Army vetera
Oct 24, 2013 Eddie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
To give this book anything less than four stars would be beyond me. Why do I seek these emotionally, kick my ass books out? I'm addicted to hard facts and truths, not romanticized bull, I suppose. This book was a vivid and detailed account of four Groveland black men that were falsely accused of rape by a white woman and the evil and horrors that spiraled over from these false accusations. This book made me immensely sad in a lot of parts, the horrors that mostly black men faced in the south was ...more
Jan 20, 2013 Walter rated it it was amazing
This is a great read and a deep and deeply disturbing book. Author Gilbert King does a masterful job of highlighting a defining case in the life and career of Thurgood Marshall as well as an underappreciated episode in our national stuggle for civil and human rights. Along the way, readers are exposed to the full range of our humanity - from the unconscionably evil to the truly innocent and all gradations in between - as well as to the opportunity to reflect on the progress we have made as a soc ...more
Jul 26, 2013 Beth rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an important book and well worth reading. I was somewhat disappointed in this book given that it had won the Pulitzer Prize for history. It was fascinating to read about Thurgood Marshall and the Civil Rights movement before MLK. There was a lot I didn't know about.

Reviews of the book suggest that it reads like a novel (think Hellhound on His Trail). This wasn't the case for me. The author often gets bogged down in descriptive tangents. Perhaps he had enough for two books and edited. But
Feb 08, 2013 Beverly rated it it was amazing
Brutally honest account of a reign of terror in central Florida.
Well-researched and very accessible to read - talks not just to big players but also to the lesser known heroes. Focus on the Groveland incident but also seamlessly informs on the broader events in Florida and the United States.

A MUST read for all interested in American history.
Tessa Eger
Reading like a great novel, Devil in the Grove by Gilbert King captures your attention by sending chills down your spine. And not just once. Case after case is presented in stark, horrifying detail, from the hair-raising attempts made on Thurgood Marshall and other NAACP lawyers to the lynchings, riots, and government corruption found throughout the south in the post-war Jim Crow years.
Growing up in Jacksonville, Florida, in the 70's, I heard rumors of trouble, even at my own high school. But I
Aug 25, 2013 Joyce rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I moved to the south in 1977. Although there was a "show" of integration, Lubbock was then, and is now, a very racially divided city. While I will admit that many things have changed, court ordered integration of schools, city council, school board, etc is not "integration." Integration is when someone's race does not matter, just their qualifications, and court orders are not required to effect it. Well, it is obvious to me that if the laws were not in place, there would be much less integratio ...more
Mar 10, 2012 Wallacejoh rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I don't read many new hardcovers as they are too expensive and my library usually has waiting lists for popular new releases. But I happened to be there when this was being catalogued and the librarian told me I had to read Devil in the Grove and Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken. I read Unbroken first and it was very good, but Devil in the Grove was so heartstopping I finished it in two days. Incredible book. Easily five stars and you will come away with such a profound respect for Thurgood Marshall ...more
May 29, 2014 Shawn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Exhausted. That is how I felt at the conclusion of this extremely well written examination of a portion of US history that few are aware of. By no means a "light" read, or "beach" read, but definitely a "must" read. You'll be astonished at how fluidly it reads. One might be tempted to proclaim it "reads like a novel". I would have to disagree. It doesn't read like a novel, it reads like a brilliant, brilliant piece of investigative journalism.
Sara Van Dyck
May 01, 2016 Sara Van Dyck rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, biography
What a horrifying, frightening, book, yet one that offers a glimmer of hope. I was of course appalled at the racism, violence, and corruption in Florida in the 1940s and early 1950s. But what few reviewers have focused on is that it illustrates how change can occur, even if slowly and painfully. Marshall spoke for his profession when he wrote: “Laws not only provide concrete benefits, they can even change the hearts of men – some men, anyhow – for good or evil.”

King shows other ways attitudes t
Aug 18, 2014 Wendy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a timely read. I can't help relating the events in this story to the current humanitarian crisis in Ferguson, Missouri. While we have made progress in racial equality in the United States, we still have a long way to go. It is important to learn about the historical roots of racism. Prejudice runs deep in our national history.
Teri Beckelheimer
Apr 30, 2016 Teri Beckelheimer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2016
Gilbert King did an amazing job chronicling Thurgood Marshall's involvement in the case of the Groveland Boys. In 1949, among the orange groves of rural Florida, a young, white couple stopped alongside the road, getting their car stuck in the mud. Two young, black men, on leave from the Army stop to help. Tensions rise between the man and the two young men and accusations of rape against the wife are made the next morning. It was a case known throughout the country and the stellar Thurgood Marsh ...more
Jun 29, 2013 Julia rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was very informative and there were parts that were exciting. It was also well-written on a sentence level. It's obviously an important subject and the author made it very vivid. It's hard to know how to evaluate it - enjoyment isn't exactly the right scale. Reading about lynchings and the terrible violence against African-Americans in the Jim Crow South was really hard, and I'm torn about whether the author's choices in the beginning were effective or overkill. Similarly, the book bad ...more
May 07, 2013 WordSmitten rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This fast-paced account of Thurgood Marshall, who was appointed to to the Supreme Court in 1967 by President Johnson, reports on Marshall's involvement in the civil rights movement, on the tension in racially divided 1940s Florida, and on an apparently corrupt sheriff in Lake County, Florida.

Gilbert King reveals information about the methods used by the New York offices of the Legal Defense Fund in New York City, about the FBI agents who investigated the case, and about the extraordinary work a
I really loved this book. I didn't know that much about Thurgood Marshall prior to reading this, and I still don't know that much, but I think I understand Florida's racial/civil rights history better, and I certainly got to know a lot about the Groveland Boys. I was interested in their case throughout its whole trajectory and was a little surprised that some of the evidence didn't mean more to the jury, though I guess in that time, in that place, these boys never really had a chance. I loved th ...more
Feb 29, 2012 Jill rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Evaluation: This is a book that should be required reading. This horrifying, edge-of-your-seat tale really happened, and not that long ago. Its repercussions helped make the country what it is today. The author, who unearthed FBI files under seal for sixty years, has done an outstanding job in telling this story which manages to be heart-breaking, inspiring, infuriating, and admirable all at once.
Derek Hunter
Jan 29, 2015 Derek Hunter rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a very difficult book to share my feelings about. In essence, I should probably take time to allow my thoughts to truly formulate but nonetheless, here are my thoughts. As I read the book, each story of hatred, racism and violent acts done in the hands of white people throughout the South makes me angry at my own race. It makes me angry at Christians. Where were white Christians when this violence, hatred and racism was spewed from town to town? They were the ones doing it. But as I writ ...more
Jun 03, 2014 Scott rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A brilliant book. This details the real life 1949 ‘Groveland Boys’ case in central Florida, where four young black men were accused of rape (a death-penalty crime at the time) by a rural white teenage girl. With the deck stacked against them due to the period, location, and Jim Crow laws, the young men had basically no chance for vindication.

Enter the NAACP and Thurgood Marshall, the pre-eminent Civil Rights lawyer in the country. Marshall and his Legal Defense Fund staff had been incredibly bus
Mississippi Library Commission
Gilbert King's painstaking research provides an excellent portrait of the Groveland case. Thurgood Marshall is brought to life in the pages of this book, as well as the atrocities that occurred in Florida. Sobering and painful to read, but well worth the harrowing trip, we recommend this to anyone who wants to learn more about civil rights history.
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Ninjas Be Reading: future reading 10 39 Apr 22, 2013 11:32AM  
  • Embers Of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America's Vietnam
  • Defying Dixie: The Radical Roots of Civil Rights: 1919-1950
  • Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned
  • Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution
  • The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation
  • Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary
  • Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age
  • Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II
  • Freedom Summer: The Savage Season of 1964 That Made Mississippi Burn and Made America a Democracy
  • The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBI
  • At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America
  • The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832
  • Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America's Struggle for Equality
  • Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution
  • Contempt of Court: The Turn-of-the-Century Lynching That Launched a Hundred Years of Federalism
  • Parting the Waters: Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement 1954-63
  • A Wild Justice: The Death and Resurrection of Capital Punishment in America
  • There Goes My Everything: White Southerners in the Age of Civil Rights, 1945-1975

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“They tried to make me say that I had been with the group of fellows that raped a white woman,” Shepherd said. “It was terrible the way I was whipped, there was just knots all over me. They said they were not going to stop whipping me until I said that I was the one. I kept telling them I was in Orlando where I was. Finally, when I couldn’t take it anymore, I said yes.” Shepherd said yes, he raped Norma Padgett, and the men dropped their hoses. Yates told Shepherd he could have “saved all the beating” if he had just said yes the first time they asked.” 1 likes
“Marshall also called upon the left-leaning Florida senator Claude Pepper to exert his influence in the case. Invoking patriotism, Marshall reminded the senator that the War Department had recently confirmed stories of American servicemen who had been tortured by the Japanese in Philippine prison camps and argued that the lynching of a fifteen-year-old boy would taint America’s international reputation: “the type of material that radio Tokio [sic] is constantly on the alert for and will use effectively in attempting to offset our very legitimate protest in respect to the handling of American citizens who unfortunately are prisoners of war.” Claude Pepper refused to get involved.” 1 likes
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