Beneath a Ruthless Sun : A True Story of Violence, Race, and Justice Lost and Found
by King, Gilbert







PART ONE
Chapter One A Killing Freeze
3(16)
Chapter Two Real Sunshine
19(22)
Chapter Three Smoked Irishman
41(28)
Chapter Four Make Tracks
69(24)
Chapter Five Sensational Lies
93(18)
Chapter Six You Will Not Turn Us Down
111(20)
Chapter Seven No Suitable Place
131(26)
Chapter Eight Well-Laid Plan
157(20)
Chapter Nihe So Much Race Pride
177(16)
Chapter Ten Don't Talk to Me About Conscience, Lady
193(28)
PART TWO
Chapter Eleven Way of Justice
221(26)
Chapter Twelve If It Takes All Summer
247(18)
Chapter Thirteen Troubled by It
265(22)
Chapter Fourteen Faith in Blanche
287(18)
Chapter Fifteen Someone Should Write a Book
305(16)
Chapter Sixteen Whether They Be White or Black
321(22)
Chapter Seventeen A Newspaper Woman
343(20)
Epilogue363(14)
Acknowledgments377(4)
Notes381(24)
Index405


Documents the mid-twentieth-century case of a gentle, developmentally challenged youth who was falsely accused of raping a wealthy woman, and traces the efforts of a crusading journalist to uncover the racism and class corruption that led to his incarceration without a trial.





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.





*Starred Review* December 1957. A woman in a small Florida town is raped. She says a "husky Negro" attacked her, and the town's notoriously racist sheriff, Willis McCall, leaps into action and soon identifies a young man as the culprit. The accused, who is mentally challenged, is hastily locked up in an asylum, and, the sheriff figures, that's the end of that. Except it isn't. Mabel Norris Reese, co-publisher of the local newspaper, knows something is wrong, and she's determined to uncover the truth, exonerate the boy, and expose the sheriff for the racist he is. This book is every bit as gripping as the author's Pulitzer-winning Devil in the Grove (2012), which explored an earlier incident involving McCall and Reese. McCall, who served as sheriff until the early 1970s, emerges here as thoroughly despicable, and Reese, who was a supporting player in Devil in the Grove, steps onto center stage here and captivates us with her determination in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Gripping history, vividly told. Copyright 2018 Booklist Reviews.





A spellbinding true story of racism, privilege, and official corruption.In 1957, in the tiny central Florida town of Okahumpka, a prominent white woman was raped; she described her attacker as a young "Negro with bushy hair." Lake County sheriff and reputed KKK leader Willis McCall indiscriminately rounded up nearly two dozen young black men for interrogation, ultimately holding two incommunicado for days as prime suspects. But then McCall astonished everyone by releasing them both and charging Jesse Daniels, a poor, mentally challenged 19-year-old white youth who could not possibly have committed the crime. He colluded with a prosecutor and judge to pack Daniels off to be warehoused at the state mental hospital with neither a trial nor a legal determination of insanity. It seemed the case was closed but for the persistence of McCall's nemesis, Mabel Norris Reese, editor of a local weekly. Pulitzer Prize winner King (Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America, 2012, etc.) thus launches an electrifying 20-year saga of murders, beatings, cross-burnings, bombings, fabricated evidence, and conveniently missing documents, all part of a racist reign of terror victimizing both blacks and whites and supported by an impenetrable elite of white citrus planters, cops, lawyers, politicians, and judges. The author draws on thousands of pages of unpublished documents, including court filings and testimony, hospital records, legislative materials, and personal files, to assemble this page-turner, suffused with a palpable atmosphere of dread. He clearly documents the lawless ferocity with which much of Florida resisted granting equal rights to blacks even as it marketed itself as a space-age vacation paradise. From the opening pages, King's narrative barrels forward, leaving readers wondering what it will take for justice to prevail. By turns sobering, frightening, and thrilling, this meticulous account of the power and tenacity of officially sanctioned racism recalls a dark era that America is still struggling to leave behind. Copyright Kirkus 2018 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.





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.”






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