The saga of the long struggle to abolish state-imposed segregation in the South is one of the great victories of the American legal system. We all know that the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) was the main actor, and Richard Kluger’s classic Simple Justice sketches the creativity and audacity of their long term strategy.
Now Gilbert King has provided an in-depth treatment of one battle in that long war. King’s Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, The Groveland Boys, And The Dawn of a New America (2013) tells the story of the prosecution of three African-American boys for allegedly raping a white girl in rural Florida. The factual situation was similar to that portrayed in To Kill A Mockingbird, but here fact is very much different from fiction. It is not a story of how a genial white lawyer unsuccessfully pleads with his neighbors to look beyond race to do justice. Instead it shows how Thurgood Marshall had to face down a racist sheriff and a complicit state judiciary to bring the case to the attention of the U.S. Supreme Court.
But the real story here is not the eventual legal victory, but the tenacity and courage, physical as well as moral, that Marshall and his colleagues display in their zealous advocacy for equal justice. Here is a book on an important era in American history that reads like a thriller.