Sunday, January 19, 2020

Book Review: 'Accidental Activist: Justice for the Groveland Four' by Josh Venkataraman and Barbara Venkataraman

Accidental Activist by Josh Venkataraman

‘It all started with a book’

While Barbara Venkataraman, an attorney and mediator specializing in family law and debt collection, and author of many books of both mysteries and humorous essays for those who enjoy parody mixed with social comment, is well known to readers, in this exceptional book she coauthors with her son Josh Venkataraman, a graduate of the University of Florida whose commitment to social justice was instigated by his extended research and triumph in finding justice for The Groveland Four.

A more appropriate title for this book would be difficult to imagine: Josh Venkataraman shares his moment of discovery of Gilbert King’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, ‘Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America,’ while a student, and that discovery initiated his passion and quest for justice that resulted in the exoneration of the four young African American men who in 1949 were accused by a white woman of rape ‘and sparked a powder keg of racial upheaval, torture, murder, and hatred in a small town.’ In other words, reading King’s novel was the fuse that ignited Josh’s activism.

Written in a tone that suffuses the details of the story with acute involvement, Josh, as assisted by his gifted mother, relates ‘You can’t look for a cause, it has to find you. My project found me in early 2015, my junior year at the University of Florida. I was driving back to Gainesville from Orlando after a weekend trip when I saw a sign on the highway. It wasn’t a sign form God but an actual sign with one word on it: “Groveland.” Six months earlier that sign would have meant nothing to me but, in that moment, it opened my eyes to the past, to a tragedy that still echoed through the years, Seeing that sign made Groveland a tangible place, a place where terrible things had happened.’ Recalling King’s book, and finding himself in the space where history occurred launched his campaign to right the wrong inflicted on the Groveland Four.

Leading the reader through the details of the project makes for fascinating and instructive reading, an experience each reader must incorporate as a personal mission. The end result – a challenge for a call to action, or as Josh states, ‘I wrote this book to show you how to get stuff done, important stuff that makes the world a better place. This is a primer for positive action…this book will teach you how to pursue your own endeavors, whatever they may be.’ Combining the victory for justice the book imparts with this arm-around-the-shoulder approach for each of us to become involved makes this book radiant – one that should be read and absorbed by everyone. Very highly recommended.

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.