ON THE BOOKSHELF – “Devil in the Grove”

  • Book Cover and author image


By Steve Grillo

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

Our storied history, wrought with racial injustice and racial strife, is one which has left an indelible mark on a democracy which was built on the foundation of principles heavily rooted in equality and justice.

Understanding that history and how its complexities are interwoven into our daily lives today is paramount to being able to effect the lasting change so many strived for throughout our struggle to end racial injustice. It is in our quest for knowledge that we can better understand the struggles and hardships through the eyes of those who actually endured them.

Devil in the Grove is an excellent depiction of the travesties which besieged the legal system with regards to racism and the blatantGroveland Boys standing on balcony inequities prevalent in law enforcement and the courts.

Gilbert King did a masterful job navigating these troubled waters by offering his readers a front row view into the struggles and complexities, not only for the Groveland Boys, but for so many throughout the south during these tumultuous times. As Justice Hugo Black wrote in delivering the opinion of the Court in Chambers v. Florida,

Today, as in ages past, we are not without tragic proof that the exalted power of some governments to punish manufactured crime dictatorially is the handmaid of tyranny. Under our constitutional system, courts stand against any winds that blow as havens of refuge for those who might otherwise suffer because they are helpless, weak, outnumbered, or because they are nonconforming victims of prejudice and public excitement. Due process of law, preserved for all by our Constitution, commands that no such practice as that disclosed by this record shall send any accused to his death…of whatever race, creed or persuasion.

The book delves into the lives of Negros in the south and how their labor was manipulated by citrus barons who capitalized on the Jim Crow laws prevalent throughout the south. Gilbert King then leads his readers through a justice system, led by Sheriff Willis V. McCall, which seems almost unimaginable if it were not for the countless iteration by all those who played witness or victim of the injustice served by Lake County, Florida.

Coupled with this injustice is the irreparable damage invoked by the Ku Klux Klan and the violence and hate they spewed on the Negros of Lake County and the NAACP members who sought justice for the Groveland Boys.

Justice Thurgood Marshall Intertwined in the story of the injustice which encircled the Groveland Boys is the heroic effort to fight this injustice by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and one of its most prominent members, Supreme Court Justice,Thurgood Marshall. “Mr. Civil Rights” as he is often referred to, set aside the threats on his life to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Groveland Boys as he struggled to advocate for justice on their behalf.

His legacy of championing justice for all Americans, regardless of race or creed will forever stand as a beacon for all those who seek to tip the scales of justice in favor of equal justice under the law. As Thurgood Marshall once stated,

“A child born to a black mother in a state like Mississippi . . . has the same rights as a white baby born to the wealthiest person in the United States. It’s not true, but I challenge anyone to say it is not a goal worth working for.”

The story of these Groveland Boys and the unimaginable struggles they faced in finding equity under the law will leave you angry and bewildered as to how something like this could happen in a country founded on the principles of justice and equality.

I was taken back to a time, long before my existence on this planet, and offered a glimpse into how unjust and racially divided we were as a nation. In many ways, it offered me an opportunity to see how far we have come as a nation, and yet how far we still have to go. This story provokes both thought and reflection and it will leave you with a quenching thirst to better understand this pivotal time in our nation’s short history.