Cover image for Beneath a ruthless sun : a true story of violence, race, and justice lost and found / Gilbert King.
Title:
Beneath a ruthless sun : a true story of violence, race, and justice lost and found / Gilbert King.
ISBN:
9780399183386
Publication Information:
New York : Riverhead Books, [2018]
Physical Description:
416 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Abstract:
From the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning bestseller "Devil in the Grove" comes a gripping story of sex, race, class, corruption, and the arc of justice. In December 1957, Blanche Bosanquet Knowles, the wealthy young wife of a citrus baron, is raped in her home while her husband is away. Journalist Mabel Norris Reese and an inexperienced young lawyer pursue the case, winning unlikely allies and chasing down leads until at long last they begin to unravel the unspeakable truths behind a racial conspiracy that shocked a community into silence.

"A small town. A big secret. In December 1957, the wife of a Florida citrus baron is raped in her home while her husband is away. She claims a 'husky Negro' did it, and the sheriff, the infamous racist Willis McCall, does not hesitate to round up a herd of suspects. But within days, McCall turns his sights on Jesse Daniels, a gentle, mentally impaired white nineteen-year-old. Soon Jesse is railroaded up to the state hospital for the insane, and locked away without trial. Crusading journalist Mabel Norris Reese cannot stop fretting over the case and its baffling outcome. Who is protecting whom, or what? She pursues the story for years, chasing down leads, hitting dead ends, winning unlikely allies. Bit by bit, the unspeakable truths behind a conspiracy that shocked a community into silence come to the surface. Beneath a Ruthless Sun tells a powerful page-turning story rooted in the fears that rippled through the South as integration began to take hold, sparking a surge of virulent racism that savaged the vulnerable, debased the powerful, and roils our own times still."--Dust jacket.
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Summary

Summary

"Compelling, insightful and important, Beneath a Ruthless Sun exposes the corruption of racial bigotry and animus that shadows a community, a state and a nation. A fascinating examination of an injustice story all too familiar and still largely ignored, an engaging and essential read." --Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy

From the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning bestseller Devil in the Grove, the gripping true story of a small town with a big secret.

In December 1957, the wife of a Florida citrus baron is raped in her home while her husband is away. She claims a "husky Negro" did it, and the sheriff, the infamous racist Willis McCall, does not hesitate to round up a herd of suspects. But within days, McCall turns his sights on Jesse Daniels, a gentle, mentally impaired white nineteen-year-old. Soon Jesse is railroaded up to the state hospital for the insane, and locked away without trial.
But crusading journalist Mabel Norris Reese cannot stop fretting over the case and its baffling outcome. Who was protecting whom, or what? She pursues the story for years, chasing down leads, hitting dead ends, winning unlikely allies. Bit by bit, the unspeakable truths behind a conspiracy that shocked a community into silence begin to surface.

Beneath a Ruthless Sun tells a powerful, page-turning story rooted in the fears that rippled through the South as integration began to take hold, sparking a surge of virulent racism that savaged the vulnerable, debased the powerful, and roils our own times still.


Author Notes

Gilbert King was awarded the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in Nonfiction for The Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America , which was also a New York Times bestseller and a finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. A featured contributor to Smithsonian magazine and The Marshall Project, King also writes about justice for The New York Times and The Washington Post . He lives in New York City.


Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Voice actor Farr offers a simple reading of King's true crime saga set in the Jim Crow South. During the winter of 1957, Blanche Knowles, a white woman and the wife of a wealthy citrus baron in Lake County, Fla., is raped. She describes her rapist as a black man with bushy hair. Yet, despite evidence to the contrary, it is a mentally disabled white teenager, Jesse Daniels, who is convicted of the crime, and his family is ostracized by the community at the mere suggestion of having black ancestry. He spends the next 14 years committed to the state hospital for the insane at Chattahoochee. Despite an uncaring bureaucracy, crooked lawmen, and frightening harassment by the KKK, Jesse's mother and a dedicated investigative reporter work tirelessly to prove Jesse's innocence. Farr cleanly guides the listener through this tale of injustice and unabashed, rampant racism. Farr's clear and steady reading keeps listeners attuned to the historical detail and plot twists that drive King's narrative. A Riverhead hardcover. (Apr.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


New York Review of Books Review

DANCING BEARS: True Stories of People Nostalgic for Life Under Tyranny, by Witold Szablowski. (Penguin, paper, $16.) This utterly original book by a Polish journalist describes how Bulgarians earned money by making captive bears dance, then shifts to a farreaching conversation about the meaning of freedom. BENEATH A RUTHLESS SUN: A True Story of Violence, Race, and Justice Lost and Found, by Gilbert King. (Riverhead, $28.) In his latest book, King returns to the corrupt Jim Crow-era Florida sheriff he wrote about in his 2013 Pulitzer Prize winner, "Devil in the Grove." Here, the victims of his brutality include a mentally disabled white teenager, falsely accused of rape. THE PARKING LOT ATTENDANT, by Nafkote Tamirat. (Holt, $26.) An Ethiopian-American teenager living in a mysterious island commune narrates this impressive debut novel, recalling her childhood in Boston and her entanglement there with a charismatic parking-lot attendant and his possibly sinister schemes. VARINA, by Charles Frazier. (Ecco/HarperCollins, $27.99.) Returning to the Southern landscapes of his best-selling novel, "Cold Mountain," Frazier uses his new novel to revive one of the almost forgotten figures of 19th-century American history, the much younger and much conflicted wife of Jefferson Davis. THE SPARSHOLT AFFAIR, by Alan Hollinghurst. (Knopf, $28.95.) For a man in the 1950s, gay sex was a scandal that led to a prison term. His son comes to maturity in a different era, one in which he can take a legal husband. Hollinghurst's novel traces the private and public twists of this process. SOMETHING WONDERFUL: Rodgers and Hammerstein's Broadway Revolution, by Todd S. Purdum. (Holt, $32.) Not long ago, these progenitors of virtually all modern musical theater were widely considered dull, stodgy middlebrows. A political writer by trade, Purdum demonstrates, through a dual portrait of the brilliant songwriters, just how wrongheaded that was. TWO SISTERS: A Father, His Daughters, and Their Journey Into the Syrian Jihad, by Asne Seierstad. Translated by Sean Kinsella. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $28.) This absorbing account reconstructs the saga of Muslim sisters who fled their home in Norway to join ISIS, and of the distraught father who went after them. THE WOMAN'S HOUR: The Great Fight to Win the Vote, by Elaine Weiss. (Viking, $28.) After Congress passed the 19 th Amendment in 1919, ratification was required in 36 states, and all eyes were on Tennessee. Weiss's view of the proceedings is panoramic and juicy. UNCLE SHAWN AND BILL AND THE ALMOST ENTIRELY UNPLANNED ADVENTURE, by A. L. Kennedy. (Kane Miller, paper, $5.99; ages 7 to 10.) In this delightfully cracked first children's book from a well-regarded novelist, a man helps a badger flee danger. The full reviews of these and other recent books are on the web: nytimes.com/books


Library Journal Review

King (Devil in the Grove) revisits many of the misconceptions and prejudices, rooted in the fears of the time and with repercussions in our, of the racism that produced segregation and injustice in 1950s Florida. King revisits the case of the wife of a wealthy citrus grower who claimed that she was raped by a "husky Negro." County Sheriff Willis -McCall was known for his racist tendencies and despotic attitudes. When McCall turns his sights on Jesse Daniels, a developmentally disabled white teenager, the case could have been closed and ignored except for journalist Mabel Norris Reese. Reese cannot quite see how the evidence, as presented, came to such an illogical outcome. She researched the story for many years, interviewing and reinterviewing individuals until she unraveled the racism and lies undermining the case. Kimberly Farr reads the audiobook with great depth of emotion. VERDICT Will appeal to fans of true crime, legal thrillers, and local history.-Pam Kingsbury, Univ. of North Alabama, Florence © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

For Mabel Norris Reese, Wednesdays had a special routine. Wednesday was the day the Mount Dora Topic , the weekly newspaper that she and her husband, Paul, owned and ran, went to press. The alarm clock would go off at four a.m. in their house on Morningside Drive in Sylvan Shores, a small, upscale community of Mediterranean Revival and ranch homes along the west side of Lake Gertrude. Within the hour, Mabel would be barreling along the few miles to the Topic 's office in downtown Mount Dora. There she'd go over that week's edition, making corrections in the lead galleys, before heading back home to cook break­fast for Paul and their daughter, Patricia. Once Patricia had been seen off to school, Mabel would return to the office with Paul for the long hours ahead. Side by side, they would dress up the pages of the newspaper together. Harold Rawley, who ran the Linotype machine, would set the pages one metal line of type at a time, to be inked and printed later that night on the Old Topper, the Topic 's big press. Mrs. Downs, a seventy- two- year- old widow who had taken over the print work from her late husband, would stand in the hot air atop the press platform, feeding sheets of paper into the jaws of the loud, cranky machine that birthed the "inky babies," as Mabel called them. Sturdy and still stylish at forty- three, Mabel favored printed cotton shirtwaist dresses, which she sometimes wore with pearls, and with her bebopper's cat- eye glasses she was easily spotted out and about in old- fashioned Mount Dora. In addition to covering meetings, writing stories and weekly editori­als, taking photographs, and selling ads, Mabel worked the arm on the wing mailer and slapped name stickers on each freshly printed copy un­til, as she liked to tell Patricia, "the pile on the left goes way down and the pile on the right climbs to a mountain." (Patricia herself attended to the wrapping and stamping of the papers, and Paul and his brother deliv­ered the lot of them to the post office.) Mabel had performed this strenuous Wednesday routine more than five hundred times in the ten years that she and Paul had been publishing the Topic . She'd missed only two issues-- once when she'd been briefly hospitalized and once the previous summer, when she'd traveled to Illi­nois to accept a journalism award. But when, in the wee hours of December 18, rumors of a white woman's rape began to circulate, Mabel deviated from her normal Wednesday routine and instead followed her reportorial instincts. They took her to Okahumpka, where she'd heard that residents of North Quarters were being harassed. There she found that Sheriff McCall's deputies were not only terrorizing the residents but also arresting on suspicion virtually every young black male in the neighborhood. One of them described how Negro suspects were being rounded up and taken in by up to five carloads at a time. "They woke me up at two a.m. and told me I would get the electric chair if they didn't kill me beforehand," he said. Another Okahumpka resident told Mabel, "They took in thirty- three of our menfolk. Not just men, but boys, too . . . A body couldn't do anything but wait for 'em to come pounding on the door." By daybreak, Mabel had pages of notes to transcribe, and they reverberated with fear-- fear that, once again, the Lake County Sheriff's Department was indiscriminately rounding up young black men, and that, once again, violence would come of it. "A restlessness began to run through the quarters," Mabel wrote, "and it mounted steadily." Excerpted from Beneath a Ruthless Sun: A True Story of Violence, Race, and Justice Lost and Found by Gilbert King All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.