Legal History

Pulitzer awarded for book on largely forgotten case defended by Thurgood Marshall

Author Gilbert King says he thought a friend was joking in a text message that read, “Dude. Pulitzer.”

It turned out the friend was serious, report the New York Times and the Orlando Sentinel. King wasn’t even aware that his publisher had nominated his book called Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys and the Dawn of a New America. He won in the general nonfiction category.

The book is about a mostly forgotten incident involving four black men falsely accused of raping a 17-year-old white woman in Groveland, Fla., according to the Times. One of the accused men was shot to death by a posse. Two received death sentences and the other a life sentence.

Marshall and his staff lawyers at the NAACP persuaded the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the death sentences. After the ruling, the two defendants were shot, one fatally, by the sheriff, who claimed they had tried to escape. Marshall persuaded the governor to commute the survivor’s death sentence to life in prison.

The Times interviewed King while the Sentinel caught up with him as he spoke to a book club at The Villages retirement community near Orlando. The appearance was scheduled before King won the Pulitzer.

“It’s not just a crime story,” King told book club members. “It’s a story of America’s history at a time that a lot of people are not aware—the pre-civil-rights movement right after World War II.”

Previous coverage: ” ‘Devil in the Grove’ Author Discusses Early Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Case”

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