Devil in the Grove

  • by Gilbert King
  • Narrated by Peter Francis James
  • 17 hrs and 57 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Audie Award Winner, History, 2014
Pulitzer Prize, General Nonfiction, 2013
Arguably the most important American lawyer of the 20th 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 17-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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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

the fight for civil rights

“Devil in the Grove” won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction. Gilbert King did a lot of research to write the story; he goes into painstaking detail about the tactics used by Thurgood Marshall (future Supreme Court Judge) and his co-NAACP attorney Franklin Williams to chip away at the foundations of the Jim Crow Law. He documents in detail the reign of terror conducted in Lake County by the KKK and Sheriff Willis McCall who is portrayed as a ruthless brutal man. The book is about four black men falsely accused of raping Normal Lee Padgett, a 17 year old white woman in Groveland Florida in 1949. King’s research shows that there was no physical evidence and two of the Groveland Four were not even within a day’s drive of the area Padgett claimed the rape took place. Sheriff McCall killed two of the men while in his custody. He was never charged for the shootings. The other two were badly beaten many times but no one was ever charged with the beatings. The KKK burned to the ground the black community in Groveland. King details the complicated case involving 4 defendants, several trials, various appeals, numerous defense attorneys, multiple judges and different points of law. I learned a few pearls from the story 1) more black man were lynched in Florida than any other Southern State and 2) these were the type of cases that evidentially lead to removing the death penalty from rape cases. I was appalled at the treatment of black people by the white in Lake County, if the blacks were the main pickers of the oranges, I just cannot understand why they were beaten and killed. Dead men do not pick oranges. Also it is a disgrace to have Sheriff McCall be re-elected to office for over 20 years. I read this book because I am reading books about the Supreme Court Justices and even though this book takes place before Marshall was appointed to the court I thought it would provide me with an insight into the man, which the book did. Peter Francis James did an excellent job narrating the book.
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- Jean "I am an avid eclectic reader."

Stunning history of the Jim Crow south. Essential

Would you listen to Devil in the Grove again? Why?

Yes! The book deservedly won the Pulitzer Prize and it was a riveting listen.


What other book might you compare Devil in the Grove to and why?

No book compares. The story was unbelievable. A combination of true crime and courtroom thriller.


Which character – as performed by Peter Francis James – was your favorite?

Thurgood Marshall.


Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Too long for that.


Any additional comments?

This book deserves to become a classic. It is riveting and proves that truth is stranger than fiction. The story will frighten you, anger you and make you ashamed at the cruel treatment of African Americans by law enforcement personnel.

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- Bill "Love well written and well narrated books of any type."

Book Details

  • Release Date: 05-24-2013
  • Publisher: HarperAudio