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Beneath a Ruthless Sun: A True Story of Violence, Race, and Justice Lost and Found

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From the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning bestseller Devil in the Grove, the gripping true story of a small town with a big secret.

In December 1957, the wife of a Florida citrus baron is raped in her home while her husband is away. She claims a "husky Negro" did it, and the sheriff, the infamous racist Willis McCall, does not hesitate to round up a herd of suspects. But within days, McCall turns his sights on Jesse Daniels, a gentle, mentally impaired white nineteen-year-old. Soon Jesse is railroaded up to the state hospital for the insane, and locked away without trial.
But crusading journalist Mabel Norris Reese cannot stop fretting over the case and its baffling outcome. Who was protecting whom, or what? She pursues the story for years, chasing down leads, hitting dead ends, winning unlikely allies. Bit by bit, the unspeakable truths behind a conspiracy that shocked a community into silence begin to surface.

Beneath a Ruthless Sun tells a powerful, page-turning story rooted in the fears that rippled through the South as integration began to take hold, sparking a surge of virulent racism that savaged the vulnerable, debased the powerful, and roils our own times still.

Audio CD

First published April 24, 2018

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About the author

Gilbert King

22 books197 followers
Gilbert Anthony King is an American writer and photographer.


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Displaying 1 - 30 of 361 reviews
Profile Image for Tammy.
511 reviews429 followers
February 15, 2018
The truth really is stranger than fiction. When I began reading I made the assumption that I would be reading a true account of a case similar to the one depicted in To Kill a Mockingbird. In other words, a black man falsely accused of rape by a white woman in the 1957 Jim Crow south. In this true account, the wife of a powerful citrus grower is actually raped and black men were indiscriminately rounded up and held as suspects without reason. However, days later it is “decided” that the perpetrator is an intellectually challenged nineteen year old white male.

In this backwater Florida town of Okahumpka a racist sheriff is king. Swaggering, mean-spirited and hateful Sheriff McCall is the embodiment of bigotry at its ugliest. In contrast a committed, relentless and civil rights minded female reporter never stops trying to right a grim wrong. Naturally, the KKK terrorizes her but is unable to prevent her from pursuing her cause.

This well-researched book addresses almost everything that was wrong with the system regarding the violation of civil rights: illegal confinement, segregation, failure and manipulation of the judicial system as well as the powerlessness of the poverty stricken against established institutions. We still have so far to go. The violence in Charlottesville, VA. is a prime example of the revival of white supremacy groups today. Books like Beneath a Ruthless Sun may help us move forward rather than backward. One can only hope.
Profile Image for Char.
1,634 reviews1,487 followers
January 20, 2020
The reason I requested this book from my library was because of Megan Abbott's excellent, succinct review, which can be found here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

This is the shocking true story of a mentally challenged white man who was railroaded into confessing to a rape and who was then sent to a state hospital for over 14 years WITH NO TRIAL. It's a story of racism, small town corruption, networks made up of good old boys, and most importantly, a tenacious reporter named Mabel who never, ever gave up.

You know, I say it's a "shocking" story, but unfortunately, it's really not. Black or white, (mostly black), mentally challenged, and ALL poor-many people have not received a fair shake in this country over the years. It's unfortunate to note that many of them STILL are not receiving a fair shake. This book only proves how important a free press can be to the causes of justice and fair play.

Even though she has since passed of cancer, I feel the need to say WAY TO GO, Mabel! If it weren't for you, poor Jessie Daniels would probably have died in the state hospital.

Thanks to Megan Abbott for her intriguing review and thanks to my local library for providing the audiobook for free. Libraries RULE!
Profile Image for Nicholas.
Author 6 books73 followers
May 30, 2018
The actual history here is indeed chilling, but King just couldn't help himself when it came to the detail. Every single one--every character, no matter how tangentially related to the case-- is included in this account of how a developmentally delayed teenage boy was wrongfully imprisoned for the rape of a woman in 1950s Florida. Yes, this is a story of violence and race, but it's also a story of hundreds of people whose names you will soon forget because they didn't actually contribute all that much to the central narrative.
Profile Image for Faith.
1,844 reviews517 followers
July 20, 2020
This was an unusual case of a white man framed for a rape that was probably committed by a black man. The how and why of the framing was what I wanted to know, but the book took way too long to get to that. Until the end of the book it was bloated with too many extraneous characters and details. Do I really need to know about peach varieties or the temperature at which they will freeze?
Profile Image for Scott.
1,745 reviews123 followers
October 31, 2018
If there was one sentence of dialogue this year that, as a parent, hit me like an electrical jolt down my spine or like ice water injected into my veins, it was a teenager's simple yet heavy question:

"Mommie, are you coming to see me today?"

You see, Jesse Daniels was a guileless, mentally-impaired nineteen year-old living with his shack-dwelling parents in a rural Floridian county. At the time the area populated by high-living citrus barons and the working class in this pre-civil rights era. In mid-December 1957 the housewife of a connected, powerful citizen reports that she is the victim of a burglary and rape. The local sheriff's office - headed by a racist powerbroker with probable ties to a local KKK chapter, and assisted by a few deputies with questionable methods - rounds up many of the county's young men in a dragnet.

Soon Daniels is brought in 'for questioning' but is eventually kept in custody for several weeks. In short order he supposedly admits to the crime and even gives / signs a statement indicating his full involvement. The sheriff forbids any parental contact during the dubious investigation or during routine appearances for legal proceedings, leading to said question by Daniels from his courthouse jail cell window to his mother on the sidewalk below. Daniels is shipped away to spend 13 years in the infamous Chattahoochee, an overburdened state hospital with a questionable reputation.

Things look bleak for Daniels, but he both initially and eventually has a good support team in his corner - his unwavering mother, a local 'rabble-rousing' newspaper editor, a decent deputy who is unlike his co-workers, a young legal aid lawyer who takes the case and makes progress, and a state-police investigator who finally uncovers and exposes some of the fallacies of the long-time sheriff.

I'm a law & order type of guy, but so much was intentionally done wrong in this case - along with the local 'good 'ol boy' network and white supremacist involvement unmistakably casting a shadow over the process - on so many different levels that it should make any reasonable reader very upset.
Profile Image for Megan Abbott.
Author 69 books5,534 followers
May 14, 2018
An important, wrenching, movingly told story with all the narrative energy of King's previous book, the unforgettable DEVIL IN THE GROVE. (It's impossible not to fall in love with the crusading reporter Mabel Norris Reese who forms the spine of the book.) Masterfully told, full of heart and pain, and perhaps more vital a book now than ever.
Profile Image for Christine.
6,607 reviews478 followers
August 16, 2019
This is not a bad book. It just isn't as good as Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America. Sun follows the story of a young disabled boy who is imprisoned for a rape he did not commit because the "scandal" of a well known, respected wife of a man of power by a black man would be too scandalous.

Never fear, King condemns the racism at work in the town as well, and in many ways the story is also the story of the young black men who were also attacked by the sheriff because of their race. Perhaps this is why the story feels a bit too disjointed. It almost seems like there is too many focuses - the main focus is on Mabel Reese.

While Kimberly Farr is an excellent reader, I had gotten so use to Peter Francis James from the previous book that it was a little disappointing. Though the choice of Farr does make sense.

I really do hope that King continues to focus in on this era of history because it needs to be more recognized - in part because of the comments Trump has made about mental illness, but also because knowledge of the abuses of power by the law in the Jim Crow era is not widely known in the general, white, population. Considering the distrust that many communities have towards police, it is important to know history like this.

Profile Image for Kirsten .
1,589 reviews255 followers
October 21, 2019
This was an extremely painful book to read. One knows that such things happen (even today) in America. But it's hard to accept. What made this interesting is the fact that young Jesse wasn't even black. The blacks of those times and the poor whites had so much in common, yet they never seemed to join forces. The poor whites were led to believe that the black were their enemy when it was the rich and powerful.

The other horrible part of the story was the Sheriff. He was truly a horrible man, inhuman and violent. Not just a racist. He controlled everything and everyone. Except the hero(ine) of the piece. Mabel. Your idealistic reporter. Fighting injustice. Speaking truth to power. Sometimes it seemed she was just speaking in the wind.

It was heartening to see how close she got to Jesse and his mother.

The title says justice was "lost and found", but it wasn't - not really.

Why do people live in the South? Why do Southerners accept such behavior?
Profile Image for Teri.
647 reviews70 followers
September 4, 2018
Another stellar book from Gilbert King. Beneath a Ruthless Sun is the story of Jesse Daniels, who in 1950s rural Florida finds himself accused of the rape of a prominent local woman. Blanche Knowles, the wife of a citrus tycoon was raped and threatened late one night in Okahumpka, Florida. Her description of her abuser led local sheriff Willis McCall to round up every young black man in the county with the expectation of wielding McCall's version of justice on at least one of those men. Despite Knowles' claim that the rapist was a young black man, Jesse Daniels, a poor young white teenager was eventually accused of the crime, despite a solid alibi. What is uncovered is a conspiracy that included many high profile members of law enforcement and state politics, including then-governor LeRoy Collins. Jesse Daniels was simply a patsy. He was developmentally slow and had a stutter, but was smart enough to know the difference between wrong and right and to understand what was going on to him.

To conceal the cover-up, McCall had Daniels reprimanded to the Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee, FL, denying him his day in court. It was an unimaginable sentence for the young man who knew he was innocent. He did have champions on his side, however. Besides his mother, Pearl, who never lost faith in hope of her son's eventual release, Mable Norris Reese, a local journalist, used her position as editor of the local newspaper The Topic to keep Daniels' case in the news and the forefront of everyone's mind. Despite threats and abuse, the two women fought every battle that came their way to seek the release of Jesse from the state hospital and to have his criminal record expunged.

Sheriff McCall was a notorious, racist man of the law of Lake County, FL. He was introduced to us in King's prior Pulitzer prize book, Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America. McCall served as sheriff from 1944 to 1972 and was no stranger to controversy. He was feared by everyone and had his own brand of justice that spared no one. It is befuddling that he had so much power in such a small county that resonated state-wide.

This is a heartbreaking and infuriating story. You can't help getting sucked into the story and rooting for Jessie along with Mable and Pearl. If there was ever a man to be hated, it was Willis V. McCall. He was pure evil. I thought this was another page-turner. I enjoy King's writing and his way of putting you in central Florida in the 1950s-70s. I suspect this will be another award-winning book for Gilbert King.
Profile Image for Michael.
96 reviews
April 15, 2018
I received this book through a Good Reads "First Reads" Give-away. "Beneath a Ruthless Sun" is a gripping account of a terrible injustice perpetuated by the local sheriff and state's attorney in Lake County, Florida. In December 1957, the wife of a prominent citrus grower and businessman was raped in her home outside of Leesburg. Based on her description of the rapist, the Sheriff's department indiscriminately rounds up over 20 young black men in the hours that follow. Several days later, however, the police arrest and charge a 19 year old mentally impaired white man, Jesse Daniels, with the crime. Jesse is subsequently committed without trial to the notorious state mental hospital at Chattahoochee. The book recounts the tireless efforts of a local newspaper reporter and Jesse's mother on his behalf. Readers who have read King's Pulitzer Prize winning "Devil in the Grove" will already be familiar with a number of the most reprehensible characters in this saga, most notably the Sheriff Willis McCall, as well as the virulent racism, violence, and intimidation that plagued Lake County during those turbulent times. King's writing is engaging and brisk - I would definitely recommend this book to others.
14 reviews1 follower
June 1, 2018
If you haven't read Gilbert King's account of racism in central Florida from the 1940's through the 1970's, do so now. It probably makes more sense to start with his prize winning Devil in the Grove just because he references Groveland in the second book, but it doesn't really matter where you begin because you end up at the same place, a place of disbelief and shame. I grew up in Florida in the 1960's and 1970's, so in addition to the revelations about the depth of racism in my home state, I also love the way that in this book, more so for me than in Devil in the Grove, the memory of Florida before Disneyland and condoland comes alive. Besides being a gifted investigative reporter, King knows how to spin a tale so that the book reads more like fiction than history. As a matter of fact, no one would believe any of this if it were a novel; the characters like Sheriff Willis McCall and Jesse Daniels would just seem too far fetched.
Profile Image for Kimberly Lojewski.
Author 2 books20 followers
April 26, 2019
It's hard to even know how to review this book. It is certainly one of the most disturbing things I have ever read. I live in central Florida. I'm aware of current racial tensions and thought I had some knowledge of the history of racism in the south. And still, my mouth was literally hanging open in parts of the novel. It is that shocking and horrible. And despite how awful it is to know that these things happened, it is so important not to ignore or turn away from them simply because it's too much or it's uncomfortable. Thank goodness for people like Pearl (Jesse's mother) and Mabel (the reporter) and also Gilbert King (for writing the book). Because without these kinds of people, stories like this would be endlessly lost, forgotten, covered up, or swept under the rug. The positive message that this novel does clearly articulate is that it's the actions of those who refuse to give up, despite what it costs them, that bring about the real changes and whatever small amounts of redemption can be found.

Although Jesse Daniels' case is the primary focus, there is a wealth of cultural and historical context that very clearly explains and illustrates the racial tensions and all-encompassing power that Sheriff McCall and his men have. These side stories and characters are necessary to understanding the bigger part of the story. Because this book isn't just about Jesse Daniels. It is about the giant web that Jesse Daniels found himself caught up in. The scope of that web is awful, immense, and staggering, and it's residue still exists in this world, and certainly here in the south. So a huge round of applause to the author for successfully researching, capturing and writing about something so big and terrible and silent. I wish that everyone would read this.
Profile Image for Gloria.
2,049 reviews37 followers
June 13, 2018
Pulitzer Prize winning author Gilbert King offers a sobering look into the state of Florida in the 1950s. A wealthy white woman, mother of three, is raped in the dead of night in her own home. It was dark and she stated that a black man was the perpetrator which resulted in dozens of black men hauled to jail for questioning. Shortly thereafter, the sheriff arrests a white, mentally disabled young man for the crime. What really happened?

An ugly story emerges from this bucolic state. A racist sheriff affiliated with the KKK reigns for decades terrorizing and even killing anyone he chooses to. Women are expected to look the other way when their husbands openly cheat, the mentally ill are confined in horrible asylums, young arrested men too often do not live to see their day in court, the poor live a hardscrabble life.

This is the story of one female crusading journalist who went head-to-head with a well-connected sheriff that spread terror in his wake. Over several decades, Mabel Reese dug at the truth, eventually uncovering the conspiracy, while a young man languished in a mental hospital.

This one case changed many laws in the sunshine state and brought national awareness to the plights of the mentally ill and civil rights issues. It is also simply a powerful tale of one person caring to stand up for what is right in the face of oppression.
May 7, 2018
I just finished reading this most gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, yet true story. What is maddeningly is that the victims here are all AMERICANS. And they were the victims of Americans. Americans hating Americans. 

What makes this particularly disturbing is that the monsters here weren't armed robbers or serial killers or pedophiles. No, they were the pillars of the community. 

This is why we cannot tolerate white supremacists! There's never been a white supremacist who's been a decent human being. They lie, cheat, steal, perjure, rape, murder, bully, bear false witness, conspire, and willfully harm innocent people. It is impossible to be a white supremacist and not engage in the worst crimes against other human beings. 

Over the years, I've had a few of these shitheels accuse me of being ashamed for being white. 

No. I'm ashamed that they're white. 

I do recommend this book, as difficult as it is.
Profile Image for Dean Jobb.
Author 29 books183 followers
October 28, 2018
This is a searing indictment of racism and injustice in 1950s Florida. Gilbert King's deeply disturbing, must-read book reveals how corrupt, racist police officers framed a mentally challenged teenager for the rape of the wife of a prominent citrus grower. Jesse Daniels was locked up in an asylum, without trial, for more than a decade before he was exonerated. Perhaps the most compelling character in Beneath a Ruthless Sun is Mabel Norris Reese, the journalist who was instrumental in unravelling the conspiracy to falsely accuse Daniels. Her relentless, courageous reporting is a timely reminder of the essential role the news media plays in exposing corruption and injustice.
Profile Image for Tracy Miller.
993 reviews38 followers
June 8, 2018
Interesting story but not well told. It would have been better written with more summaries and less quotations. It was hard to keep everyone straight and quoting people who are very inexpressive and obtuse by nature just muddies the waters of the story you are trying to tell. I would have liked to read it as a long form article rather than an entire book.
Profile Image for Ruby Grad.
503 reviews4 followers
March 17, 2019
Captivating account of the railroading of a developmentally disabled man into the horrible Florida State Hospital at Chattahoochee for a crime he did not commit, and a comprehensive and thorough expose of the breathtaking corruption of Florida officials, including a sheriff and his deputy, and a state's attorney and judge. I couldn't put it down.
Profile Image for Lynne.
112 reviews7 followers
August 2, 2018
This is an amazing and shocking piece of history that everyone should read!!!
Profile Image for Julie Derden.
30 reviews3 followers
June 25, 2018
Gilbert King has accurately captured the climate - both politically and racially - in Lake County, Florida in the 1950s. He weaves a thriller through his copious research into primary source documents and carries the reader along into a nasty web of lies, deceit, and miscarriage of justice. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning Devil in the Grove, King introduced most readers to the Central Florida sheriff, judge, jury and executioner, Willis V. McCall. In Beneath a Ruthless Sun, Sheriff McCall and his henchmen railroad a 19-year-old cognitively impaired young resident of Okahumpka, FL into the State Mental Hospital in Chattahoochee for a rape he did not commit. At the end of the book, the reader is left wondering which of the men involved in the case was the worst: the sheriff, his deputy, the State's Attorney (who hailed from Lake County), or the state representative from Lake County to the Florida Legislature. Gilbert King nailed this one, as he did with Devil in the Grove. He should be commended for writing this brave book and celebrating the women and ethical law enforcement who would not let the case go unresolved. In a rare twist of irony, less than two months after the release of this book, the innocent man who spent 14 years in a mental institution under despicable conditions died on June 21, 2018 at 79 years of age.
Profile Image for Becky Loader.
1,720 reviews13 followers
July 13, 2018
I had a hard time reading this book, as it deals with a truly horrifying incident. However, that being said, King is the trifecta of authors: excellent research, Outstanding writing style, and attention to detail in presentation. He won a Pulitzer Prize for an earlier book, and I can see why.

The state of Florida has been notorious for corruption in government and politics. Sheriff McCall is the epitome of all things bad in such a category. He runs his county with an iron fist, and he takes no prisoners. Literally. Ugh. When the wife of one of the Citrus Kings (i.e. descendants of minor British aristocracy who didn't inherit anything and who came to Florida to make fortunes in citrus growing) is raped (in her own home, with a baby asleep in a crib) Sheriff McCall is the man of the hour. His spider web of corruption, racism, bigotry, cruelty, and yes, evil, expands and takes over the investigation. Needless to say, he knows who is going to pay. That would be regardless of who is guilty.

King has written a non-fiction book that reads smoothly from one character to another, from one incident to another. I admired his presentation, and I was appalled by what he wrote.

Oh, my. History is a harsh teacher, and I can only hope we have learned.

Profile Image for Shirley Freeman.
1,134 reviews11 followers
March 6, 2018
Beneath a Ruthless Sun is a true account of horrendous injustice and a relentless reporter seeking the truth. In the late 1950s the state of Florida was one of the strongest resisters to integration and Lake County, FL dug their heels in harder than most. Gilbert King tells the incredible story of how and why two of the most racist men in the world maintained their power, abused and murdered several black men and accused and imprisoned a young, white, mentally challenged young man for a crime he didn't commit. The story leaves you reeling though it was occasionally hard to follow due to numbers of people and lack of chronology. Still - a good read and a good reminder of what life was like in some places - not all that long ago. To be published in April.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
1,055 reviews2 followers
May 15, 2018
Honestly, one of the hardest books I have ever read. The reporting is deep and concise and the writing first-rate. But this story (and, I suspect, the author's Pulitzer Prize-winning title as well) is awash in the vilest, blackest racism this country has ever produced. A few years ago I could have read this story and mentally congratulated my fellow Americans for moving beyond this evil-minded, ignorant hate. That I could not do so while reading this book in the past days left me breathless and devastated.
17 reviews
February 3, 2019
It’s difficult to give 5 stars to a book on this topic, but I think it deserves it. I found myself being so angry throughout the book. I was born and raised in DeLand FL (an hour east of Leesburg) from 1948-63. During that time, I was totally unaware of racism going on around us.. partly because of my age, of course.. but also because of our parents who raised us to believe that we are all alike in God’s eyes. We learned by their examples. I never once heard my mom or dad use any racial slurs even until their deaths. I found it important to raise my son that same way.
Profile Image for Linda.
1,853 reviews2 followers
July 13, 2018
This is the type of situation that makes me angry. Good people caught in the machinations of people in authority. Made me think of Sheriff Arpaio in Arizona. Just close the case, don't worry about the evidence.
I'll be shaking my head for a long time.
Profile Image for Sue.
34 reviews
June 18, 2018
Excellent telling of numerous miscarriages of justice occurring in Lake Count Florida in the mid 20th century. A page turn from start to finish and quite the history lesson.
Profile Image for Douglas Perry.
Author 15 books48 followers
May 6, 2018
Following up a Pulitzer Prize-winning book can't be easy. Suddenly there are hefty new expectations to meet.

So Gilbert King, author of the acclaimed "Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America," decided to give readers more of the same.

"Beneath a Ruthless Sun: A True Story of Violence, Race, and Justice Lost and Found" is sort of a sequel to "Devil." The villain, once again, is Lake County, Florida's noxious sheriff, Willis McCall. But this time around, crusading lawyer Thurgood Marshall is nowhere to be found. He's replaced in the hero's role by intrepid small-town journalist Mabel Norris Reese, who was also a character in King's last book.

The author drops readers into the sweaty, fear-driven community of Okahumpka in Dec. 1957, and it's immediately obvious he has a powerful story to tell. A series of rapes have hit the area, and one of the victims is Blanche Knowles, the wife of a politically ambitious citrus baron. When she declares that "a Negro with bushy hair" is responsible, Sheriff McCall launches into action.

McCall and his deputies round up the usual suspects -- poor, young black men. But the investigation inexplicably takes a sharp turn and settles on a mentally impaired white 19-year-old named Jesse Daniels. A trial is bypassed, and the sweet-natured young man is hustled off to an overcrowded, poorly-run state mental hospital.

Why did McCall, who loved nothing more than brutalizing and convicting African-Americans, decide to railroad a helpless white man who clearly had nothing to do with the crime? That's what Reese is determined to find out, and the rocks she turns over reveal Jim Crow-era Florida in all its corrupt, racist and entirely ordinary horror.

One potential problem for readers: King assumes you have read "Devil in the Grove." You will get no backstory for McCall, no explication of his character, of what made him into the blinkered, murderous man we meet here. The same goes for Reese. She too arrives fully formed, and we never learn what led her to this racist small town despite her forward-thinking worldview. At times this can make it difficult to get lost in the story, keeping the reader at a distance as McCall and Reese warily circle each other.

There's also this: There's no tidy, or satisfying, ending. That's the way it goes in real life, and that was especially the case in the 1950s American South.

"I blasted the sheriff to the next county," Reese would later write about her battles with McCall. "It looked as if I had him. It looked as if he was finally impaled upon my editorial pen. I went out on my next advertising rounds fully expecting the powers-that-be to say, 'Well, I guess you had him pegged all along.'"

Reese quickly realized she was being naive. The powers-that-be knew that she did indeed have McCall pegged -- but they continued to admire and support their sheriff.
Profile Image for Helen.
1,027 reviews
May 12, 2018
If there's a bigger villain in the annals Florida history than Lake County Sheriff Willis McCall, I haven't come across him. Gilbert King returns to McCall in Beneath a Ruthless Sun, a sequel to his Pulitzer Prize-winning Devil in the Grove. Taken together, the two books present an unforgettable portrait of a ruthless sheriff, who considered himself above the law and was responsible for dozens of beatings and killings by his own hand or those of his deputies, as well as the railroading of innocent people. Most of his victims were black, but poor whites were targets too, as well as anyone who dared question his authority.

Beneath a Ruthless Sun focuses on the case of a mentally challenged poor white teenager, falsely accused of rape and packed off to a violent and chaotic warehouse for the insane, where he languished for 14 years, denied even a chance for outdoor exercise. The book examines the rural Florida power dynamics that made this possible even though the victim initially described her attacker as black. I particularly liked the way that it sets the case in the context of 1950s-1960s Florida, including the space race, the beginnings of Disney World and Civil Rights protests and lawsuits.

I enjoyed this book more than Devil in the Grove, mainly for the way it tells the story of the two women who were central to the case, Jesse Daniels' mother, Pearl, and the journalist, Mabel Norris Reese (later Chesley). Reese is a true journalistic hero whose story deserves to be remembered. She knew Daniels' incarceration was unjust and she refused to be intimidated by Willis McCall and his cronies. She befriended Pearl and never let go of the story, even when it cost her the newspaper she loved (Mount Dora Topic) and she had to move to Daytona Beach to work for the paper there. This is a wonderful example of the power of journalism to raise questions and keep an issue in the spotlight that powerful people would rather forget. Her persistence in the face of many setbacks and threats is inspiring. There are other heroes too, including Richard Graham, the lawyer who pursued justice for Daniels, and Gov. Reubin Askew, who wasn't afraid to stand up to McCall.

The book is also a powerful reminder that Willis McCall was able to conduct his reign of terror only because the voters kept electing him and jurors and politicians were too cowardly to confront him.
212 reviews
April 9, 2020
One night in 1957 in the small village of Okahumpka, Florida a well-to-do young wife and mother was raped in her home. Initially she said her assailant was a 'husky Negro'. But within the next day or so the story changed. Soon thereafter a young learning-disabled local man was arrested and charged for the rape. This book covers the event and aftermath over a fifteen-year period.

There are really three competing storylines here - the plight of Jesse Daniels (the young man), a heroic crusade over the years by the local newspaper woman Mabel Norris Reese, and the unbelievably corrupt reign of terror by Sheriff Willis McCall.

Such a great abundance of material to work with here. Yet at times I struggled with the story due to trying to keep up with the sheer number of characters involved. There were multitudes of victims, law enforcement, judges, prosecutors, plaintiff's attorneys, psychiatrists, politicians, and good ol' boys. It makes sense that there would be a huge number of people involved over this long period of time, but I kept thinking as I was reading 'Who's that?". It kept me from flowing through the narrative as well as I should have.

That said, it is still a fine look at a very shameful time in America. I know this was the Deep South in the 1950's, but it's still shocking to read about the unbelievable racism, corruption and cruelty that was largely overlooked by the local citizens and state officials.

This same author wrote the Pulitzer-Prize winning book 'Devil in the Grove'. That brilliant book is basically in the same setting within roughly the same timeframe, and some of the same characters. To me Beneath a Ruthless Sun is good, but not as strong of an effort.
Profile Image for Nanci.
909 reviews20 followers
March 25, 2019
I enjoy reading non-fiction, although sometimes it can be dry. This was page turning from the start to the end!

It is the true story about a white 19 year old man, who is mentally impaired, and how he was railroaded into confessing to a rape and consequently sentenced to a state hospital without even the benefit of a trial. It is a story of racism and man's inhumanity to man. It tore at my heart.

This true story is sadly still relevant in today's America. I like to think we have come a long way from the 1950s, but then the violence that took place in Charlottesville, VA, only an hour from where I live, reminds me that there are still white supremacy hate groups in operation today. As disturbing as it is to read a book like this, I recommend it highly. Education is the means to eradicating ignorance and hopefully instilling the belief that we are all children of God, who should be loved and respected.
Profile Image for Karen.
37 reviews1 follower
May 22, 2018
I have read both of Mr. King's books and in both cases it was hard to believe that such terrible injustices occurred in a county not far from where I now live. I lived a very sheltered life in rural upstate NY so when I read this book it was hard to believe that this happened in the not so distant past. The details that Mr. King put into this book showed a great deal of research. The news reporter, Mabel Norris Reese that was so persistent was an amazing woman as was the mother of Jesse Daniels. I was fortunate enough to get to meet Gilbert King and Richard Graham at an event sponsored by the Friends of the Library in Daytona Beach being held at the News Journal. Hearing the story told by the Attorney that represented Jesse as well as Mr. King was very impressive.
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