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Devil in the Grove - Thurgood Marshall & Willis McCall

Updated on August 13, 2019
Marshall and President Johnson
Marshall and President Johnson | Source

Thurgood Marshall and The Groveland Four

Gilbert King’s Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America takes place in Lake County, Florida which is located in central Florida. less than 50 miles from Disneyland. The setting is in the middle of the 20th century, a period when Lake County’s law -- for lack of a better term -- was the infamous Willis V. McCall, the county sheriff.

In a classic rape case of the Jim Crow era, four black men are accused of raping a young white woman near Groveland, Florida and the white sheriff vows quick justice. Based on flimsy inconsistent statements from the 17-year-old alleged victim, Sheriff McCall identifies four suspects and initiates a manhunt; the saga of the Groveland Four begins.

The author paints a panoramic image of Thurgood Marshall’s ascension in the NAACP prior to this event and follows it through to his defense of the remaining Groveland defendant, the victory in Brown v. Board of Education and his ultimate appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The author’s access to NAACP Legal Defense Fund archives and the FBI’s unredacted case files provides fresh and powerful credibility to the subject. While the book often moves from event to event without a great deal of continuity, the reader benefits from the broad portrait of Marshall. The story as told is complex and a credible composite of what could well be several interesting individual books.

Thurgood Marshall is one of the premier figures in the history of civil rights in America.

Pres. John Kennedy appointed Marshall to the United States Court of Appeals for the second circuit in 1961. It was a highly contested confirmation and a group of Southern senators held up his confirmation for months during which time he served under special appointments made during a congressional recess.

In 1967, President Lyndon Johnson nominated Marshall to the Supreme Court saying that this was "the right thing to do, the right time to do it, the right man and the right place." Marshall was confirmed by a Senate vote of 69–11 in August 1967. Thurgood Marshall. He was the 96th justice, and the first African American.

Author's Note

While an excellent read on any level, this book was especially relevant to me since I lived in the town where most of the Groveland case took place. A cross was fired in my grandfathers front yard while my family was inside and armed. It was a terrifying experience for a 12-year-old boy, and one that will never be forgotten.


it is now reported that Lionsgate has acquired the movie rights to the book and. Is talking with various actors about the two big parts here. One, of course, is Marshall; Deadline says they’ll be targeting a forty-something actor, presumably someone who would like to win an Oscar. Idris? Are you available? Also, word is that they’re going to build up the role of “Mabel Norris Reese, a journalist who covered the case. Initially outraged by the rape charges, she wrote honest stories as the evidence made it clear the “victim” had invented the allegations.”


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