Sample Book Review on Devil in the Grove by Gilbert King’s

Devil in the Grove by Gilbert King’s

In Gilbert King’s book, Devil in the Grove, there are many facts shown especially on the relationship that existed between the American police officers and the labor management back in the nineteenth century. King has also demonstrated vividly the way this relationship is influenced by both legal and social forms of racism during that time in the United States of America. Some instances show details of how the police dealt with the civilians (mostly of black origin) in what they said was a way of providing justice, though one could doubt if the kind of treatment from the police officers was fair to everyone. One of the central insights of the story comes out when a young couple of the white origin named Willie and Norma Padgett reported a case in which they alleged that Willie’s wife Norma was raped around Groveland, Florida by a group of four men of black origin. This allegation brought about a very controversial civil case during that period according to Gilbert King. It is with no doubt that at that time, “Florida was considered to be notorious for issues of racial inhumanity and was not often scrutinized for the same even though it somehow recorded the highest number of extra-judicial executions compared to other states.”[1]

The lynching of Sam Shepherd, Walter Irvin (both of the Second World War) and Charles Greenlee (a teenager) arrested just a few moments after a big crowd stormed the prison following the allegations, provides a preview of the argument of justice and fairness in the dealings between the police and the civilians.

The impartiality of the police is in question as it is very visible in the instance upon which things and events took center stage from the jail compound. The angry mob decided to go about shooting at the houses of blacks in Groveland, and the officers did not take their time to arrest the shooters who even burned down the home belonging to Shepherd’s family. It can be argued that the burning of this home was mainly because Shepherd’s family was black. The hesitation of the police to rescue the home was linked to the idea that Shepherd’s father bought himself the land for personal farming, helping him escape the hard labor the blacks from the Lake County were expected to participate in, i.e. providing labor in the citrus groves. According to King, “… the American justice system was wholly stacked against the powerless blacks.”[2] The truth in King’s statement reveals itself in the way the three suspects, by then referred to as the Groveland Boys had their legal cases experience dramatic twists and turns.

The brutality with which Willis McCall, a sheriff at the Lake County, interrogated the three showed the hate existing between the white police and the blacks. It is said that McCall forced their confessions for committing the crime through a series of brutal whipping and beating. The sheriff had a reputation of supporting white supremacy, and therefore together with the Ku Klux Klan controlled the county. This meant that all the efforts to defend Sam, Walter and Charles from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People represented initially by Franklin Williams and later Thurgood Marshall, a Supreme Court justice by then who was popularly called ‘Mr. Civil Rights’, faced enough opposition. We find out from King that Marshall, Williams plus reporters and other black lawyers traveling to Groveland from central Florida for the purpose of following up the case at hand were considered to be risking their lives by doing so. Though the legibility of the rape allegations is uncertain till now, the attorneys from the NAACP fought a difficult battle in defending the Groveland Boys. They were not expected in their defense to hint that a woman of white origin was telling a lie, even if the whole town regarded her as ‘bad egg.’

In spite of all the misconduct from the prosecuting side coupled up with evidence considered to have a lot of weaknesses, the quick, hurried judgment found the Groveland Boys guilty of the rape case, thereby proposing a death sentence to Shepherd and Irvin, who were both blacks.  However, the Americans of black skin was judged based on the mercy of the whites, and no favors were expected of them especially since they were above them in ranks. Because of dissatisfaction, the NAACP launched appeals up to the Supreme Court where the convictions were withdrawn in the year 1951, ordering a retrial of the boys. NAACP described the way Florida court handled the case as “… an example of the worst menaces to American justice…”[3] But Sheriff McCall shot Shepherd and Irvin several times while he transported them to the Lake County for retrial. He claimed they were trying to escape.

It is no doubt that the relationship involving the police and the labor management which included mostly blacks was not good. It was profoundly affected by the injustices the police imposed on the Negro workers and the brutality with which they treated them. The bad relationship was even increasingly promoted by the racial and injustices which characterized Florida at the time.


Gilbert. “Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America.” Harper Collins Publishers (2013).


[1] Gilbert. “Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America.” Harper Collins Publishers (2013).

[2] Gilbert. “Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America.” Harper Collins Publishers (2013).

[3] Gilbert. “Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America.” Harper Collins Publishers (2013).