The 2013 Pulitzer Prizes were announced Monday, April 15, by the Pulitzer Prize board at a ceremony at Columbia University. The nonfiction accounts of two heroes of African descent emerged: Thomas-Alexandre Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie, born in 1762 in the Caribbean French sugar colony of Saint-Domingue on the island of Hispaniola (the place of his birth now lies in Haiti, which shares the island), and famed civil rights attorney and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

“Devil in the Grove” (Harper) by Gilbert King won in general nonfiction.

The book tells the story of how Thurgood Marshall, who would become the first African American Supreme Court justice, got involved in a case in 1949 involving four Black men falsely accused of rape.

In 1949, Florida’s orange industry was booming, and citrus barons got rich on the backs of cheap Jim Crow labor. To maintain order and profits, they turned to Willis V. McCall, a violent sheriff who ruled Lake County with murderous resolve. When a White 17-year-old Groveland girl cried rape, McCall was fast on the trail of four young Blacks who dared to envision a future for themselves beyond the citrus groves. By day’s end, the Ku Klux Klan had rolled into town, burning the homes of Blacks to the ground and chasing hundreds into the swamps, hell-bent on lynching the young men who came to be known as “the Groveland Boys.”

And so began the chain of events that would bring Thurgood Marshall, the man known as “Mr. Civil Rights,” into the deadly fray. Associates thought it was suicidal for him to wade into the “Florida Terror” at a time when he was irreplaceable to the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement, but the lawyer would not shrink from the fight–not after the Klan had murdered Harry T. Moore, one of Marshall’s NAACP associates involved with the case, and Marshall had endured continual threats that he would be next.

Drawing on a wealth of never-before-published material, King shines new light on this remarkable civil rights crusader, setting his rich and driving narrative against the heroic backdrop of a case that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson called “one of the best examples of one of the worst menaces to American justice.”

Tom Reiss’ “The Black Count” (Crown) won in biography or autobiography.

The Pulitzer jury called the book about the real-life inspiration for the Count of Monte Cristo “a compelling story of a forgotten swashbuckling hero.”

The entire world has read such wonderful books as “The Three Musketeers,” and “The Count of Monte Cristo,” and if you’ve never read these book, surely you’ve seen countless movies about heroic fighters.

But not many readers know these French heroic tales were written by a Black man called simply Alexandre Dumas (African and European origins), and even fewer know these stories of courage, honor, and gallantry were based on the life of Dumas’ father, Alex Dumas (changed his name and took his mother’s last name Dumas), also a Black man.

Here we find a figure made for fiction himself–son of an enslaved woman and a dashing cavalier, a hero of the French Revolution, a warrior who singlehandedly turned the tide of battle at critical moments for France, an officer and French general, who by his enemies was known as the ‘black devil,’ was the highest-ranking and possibly most famous Black man of his era in Europe . . . and peer of a rising military figure named Napoleon Bonaparte. And finally, within his own lifetime, a forgotten man.

It would be interesting to see if Hollywood would ever dare to tell the Dumas stories in the spirit in which they were written–for and about his father.

Check out these two amazing books, I know I will.

Gail can be reached at