Pulitzer Prize-winning author Gilbert King discusses legacy of Thurgood Marshall
March 28, 2018
Gilbert King talks about the impact of the supreme court judge and his legacy in his book “Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America.”
King’s book centers around four Florida men who were accused of raping a white farm girl in 1949. At the time, Marshall was known as Mr. Civil Rights. He had been successful with bringing civil rights cases to the attention of the courts, but that wasn’t all he focused on.
“People were surprised to see him taking these criminal death penalty cases in the south which was extremely dangerous,” King says. “He was sort of indisposable to the Civil Rights Movement. Even his own colleagues were asking him why he taking these cases.”
Marshall was known for saying that the death penalty cases mattered because those cases save lives. He was the last defense for many falsely accused men, King says.
There was a sheriff in Florida who would abduct the men who got off their death penalty charges and try killing them in the forest. He was only successful in killing one and non-fatally shooting another. King says you would look at this sheriff and know he was a bad apple, but he had the support of the government.
“I would argue that Thurgood Marshall, his impact and his legacy, is that he was able to come in and take these cases and really alter the judicial system,” King says. “I think that’s what his legacy is. The judicial system we live in today, although it’s not perfect, you wouldn’t recognize what was happening in the 40s and 50s until he came along and affected it with landmark decisions.”
It’s difficult to wrap the mind around how recent this really was, King says. There are still people from that era who are living today, like the woman who accused those four men in Florida.
King emphasizes the importance of the courts when it comes to changing how society works. He says before there was Martin Luther King, there were the lawyers and civil rights that were won through the court system.
“I think that’s something you’re seeing today where some of these issues we thought we had already solved like voting rights and segregation, they’re kind of coming back,” King says. “It’s taking lawyers once again for them to file cases to challenge these things.”
King is coming out with his third book, “Beneath a Ruthless Sun: A True Story of Violence, Race, and Justice Lost and Found” on April 24. It’s about how 19-year-old Jesse Daniels, a white and mentally impaired boy, was convicted of rape without trial and sent to the state hospital for the insane. For more information on King, visit gilbertking.com.