NAMED A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR BY NPR and THE WASHINGTON POST
"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.
The perversions of justice under Jim Crow chart a devious path in this labyrinthine true crime saga. Pulitzer-winning historian King (Devil in the Grove) explores the aftermath of the 1957 rape of a white woman named Blanche Knowles, the wife of a wealthy citrus baron in Lake County, Fla., a locale notorious for trumped-up prosecutions of black men. A dragnet led by Lake County Sheriff Willis McCall rounded up African-American suspects, but then Jesse Daniels, a mentally impaired white teenager, was accused of the crime. Despite evidence that his confession was coerced, he was committed without trial to a hospital for the criminally insane. King follows the Daniels family's struggle to free Jesse for two decades as it played out against Florida's intensifying civil rights movement, untangling along the way the extraordinary web of lies that racism wove around blacks and whites alike (for example, Blanche's family dismisses a lead on a new suspect to spare her husband "the indignity of having a wife who had been violated by a black man"). At the story's center is the decades-long reign of terror of Sheriff McCall, a Klan leader who killed prisoners, beat suspects, brutalized interracial couples, and railroaded innocent people, and was opposed only by crusading journalist Mabel Reese, who braved death threats and bombings to help Daniels. Packed with riveting characters and startling twists, King's narrative unfolds like a Southern gothic noir probing the recesses of a poisoned society. Photos.
Customer ReviewsSee All
High Praise for a Job Well-Done
I read this having not previously read anything by this author and was pleasantly rewarded for the effort. I initially gathered that it was a story about race, because that’s what one of the reviewers stated, but it was a story about, not only race, but also about “good old boy” power bases, unrestrained and unchecked in their Home Counties, but then networked with other organizations similar to theirs, throughout the state of Florida, and ostensibly in other jurisdictions, which ultimately provided an impermeable force field for county governments to do whatever they wanted as segregation in the south began to gasp its final breaths. But most of all it was a story about the courage of a dedicated mother, a committed journalist, and a lawyer who came to the aid of a developmentally disabled young man who had been separated from all that he new and loved, after being railroaded by the racist sheriff’s department and prosecutors office. I was enraptured from page one as the story quickly pulled me into this tragedy and held me captive until the end.
Great story of the 1950’s south
This is one of the best books I have ever read. It is a true story of racism, crime of rape, societies perceptions and treatment of mental deficiencies , racism, corruption , the legal system and so much more. Gilbert King does a wonderful job of tying this in-depth story together and tells a captivating story, highly recommend