Review: Devil In The Grove

Gilbert King won the Pulitzer Prize for Devil In The Grove, and it’s easy to see why.  This is a well written, meticulously researched history of a horrifying miscarriage of justice in a 1949 rape case.  King collects a dizzying array of facts and testimony that make clear just how badly America treated its black citizens.  It’s the kind of sobering history that makes you worry how much has changed.

The case is cut and dried by any reasonable standard: several of the men convicted had never laid eyes on the woman they were alleged to have raped, all were beaten until they confessed (or it was clear they wouldn’t), the trials were all overshadowed by mob violence, and defense attorneys nearly lynched.  When a new trial was ordered by the Supreme Court, the sheriff simply shot the two defendants on the way to the court house (one miraculously survived).  No charges.

King makes it clear that it was also cut and dried by the unreasonable standard of the day: a white person claimed rape by blacks, so they were guilty.  A lot of the impact of Grove is how well King brings that standard home.  The case was the kind of media circus that happens with alarming frequency today – as I write this the Trayvon Martin case is the analog – but the lynchings and shootings were considered expected.

Understanding central Florida’s history here makes people’s reaction to the modern case much clearer.

Grove is harrowing and essential reading.

Strongly recommended.

Comments are closed.