To learn more about the incredible story of Mabel Norris Reese, click the images below. From an in-depth panel discussion regarding her transition from a biased journalist to one in pursuit of the truth, this is where you can begin to discover how a small-town reporter risked her life when she began to tap into the depths of her courage.

Panel Discussion with Gilbert King, Cindy Chesley Erickson, Jim McNalis, Gary McKechnie, and moderator Bob Kealing

Author Gilbert King and Gary McKechnie on Central Florida Spotlight

WKMG's Carolina Cardona covers the statue's unveiling and legacy of Mabel Norris Reese.

WFTV's Deanna Albritten covers Mabel Norris Reese sculpted portrait unveiling.

MABEL NORRIS REESE TRIBUTE FUND

A community effort to honor a courageous citizen,

a fearless reporter, and one very determined woman.

THANK YOU! While our fundraising goal was met for the initial terra cotta sculpted portrait of Mabel Norris Reese and subsequent donations from the Mount Dora Community Trust and Mount Dora Arts Council covered additional expenses for the pedestal and bronzing, we are continuing to accept donations through our GoFundMe account in anticipation of the foundation and installation costs. 

We encourage you to donate through the GoFundMe tab to the right. Any additional funds collected beyond actual costs will be donated to an appropriate non-profit such as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund which was instrumental in providing representation to the Groveland Four.

Mabel's Story

The courage of Mabel Norris Reese may have been forgotten had it not been for ‘Devil in the Grove’, Gilbert King’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book that recounted a tragedy that occurred in Lake County, Florida...

MSS 19

Accused of raping a white woman in 1949, black suspects who became known as “The Groveland Four” were victims of the time — and victims of Lake County Sheriff Willis McCall. One, Ernest Green, was killed by a posse before he could stand trial. The others (Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, and Charles Greenlee) were imprisoned and brutally tortured by McCall and his deputies to coerce confessions.

Reese, owner and editor of the small town Mount Dora Topic newspaper (read David Cohea’s article here), initially sided with McCall. But when he murdered Sammy Shepherd and wounded Walter Irvin by claiming the handcuffed prisoners had tried to escape, Reese realized she had been an unwitting accomplice in his reign of terror. Despite threats to her life and her livelihood which found the KKK detonating two bombs at her home, burning a cross in her lawn, poisoning her dog, and launching a rival newspaper to drive her out of business, she spent the remainder of her career dedicated to holding the corrupt sheriff, deputies, judges, and attorneys to task. Even as she faced McCall’s wrath, she continued to write articles in support of the two surviving Groveland Boys until they were released from prison. In the 1950s, she was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for her persistent attempts to gain justice for the Platt family children who were forced out of Mount Dora’s whites-only public schools when the school board and Willis McCall suspected they were “negroes” (they were later admitted into the Mount Dora Bible School to continue their education). Mabel stepped up yet again when McCall, along with the local judges and attorneys, framed a mentally disabled 19-year old for rape. Committed without trial to the state hospital for the insane, Jesse Daniels would spend fourteen years in confinement before Mabel, through articles and alliances formed with Jesse’s mother, politicians, and attorneys, would secure his release. This tragedy is told in painful detail in Gilbert King’s latest release, ‘Beneath a Ruthless Sun’.

This page will note developments related to the efforts of the Mabel Norris Reese Tribute Fund, Inc., formed to raise monies for the creation of a bust of Mabel Norris Reese to be placed on permanent public display in Mount Dora. It will be a visible reminder of the need to protect a free press, how the written word can bring justice to unjust situations, and to honor the courage of a woman who couldn’t be intimidated.

Confrontation with Ex-Sheriff is Tale of a Hero
Lake Sentinel • Lauren Ritchie • February 20, 2004

Mount Dora Resident wants Bust of Mabel Reese on Display
Daily Commercial • Roxanne Brown • August 7, 2018

Commentary: Courageous newspaperwoman Mabel Norris Reese being nominated for Women's Hall of Fame in Lake County.
Lake Sentinel • Lauren Ritchie • August 27, 2018

Mabel Norris Reese Set to be Inducted into Lake County Women's Hall of Fame
Lake Sentinel • Jerry Fallstrom • November 26, 2018

Journalist Mabel Norris Reese Inducted in Women's Hall of Fame
Daily Commercial • Roxanne Brown • December 4, 2018

Commentary: Lake County Commissioner diminishes journalist's accomplishments with watered-down version of history
Lake Sentinel • Lauren Ritchie • December 10, 2018

For Mother and Daughter, Now Both Lost in the Ink
David Cohea • December 12, 2015

Imprisoned, tortured, and murdered for a crime they didn't commit,  Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, Charles Greenlee, and Ernest Thomas (The Groveland Four) were victims a sociopathic sheriff and a judicial system that enabled his brutality. Yet a decades-long effort by their family members, determined politicians and private citizens seeking justice, and new evidence presented by authors Gilbert King and Gary Corsair, the Groveland Four received apologies from Lake County communities, local newspapers and, on January 11, 2019, pardons from State of Florida. While a pardon implies a crime had been committed. efforts for full and complete exonerations remain active. 

To the Community and Families of the Groveland Four: We're Sorry
Editorial, Orlando Sentinel • January 10, 2019

Groveland Four Get Justice 70 Years Later
Orlando Sentinel • Stephen Hudak, Ryan Gillespie, Beth Kassab and Gray Rohrer • January 11, 2019

Accused of Florida Rape 70 Years Ago, 4 Black Men Get Posthumous Pardons
National Public Radio • Ian Stewart • January 11, 2019

'Miscarriage of Justice': Florida Finally Pardons Four Black Men Accused of Rape in 1949
Washington Post • Katie Mettler Brown • January 11, 2019

Florida Governor Pardons Groveland Four, Wrongly Convicted of Rape in 1949
CNN • Amir Vera • January 11, 2019

Florida Pardons the Groveland Four, 70 Years After Jim Crow-Era Rape Case
New York Times • Jacey Fortin • January 11, 2019

Florida Pardons Groveland Four: 'This was a miscarriage of Justice'
Tampa Bay Times • Samantha J. Gross • January 11, 2019

Editorial: Finally, a Pardon for the Groveland Four
Tampa Bay Times • Editorial Board • January 11, 2019

Florida Pardons Groveland Four: 'This was a miscarriage of Justice'
Tampa Bay Times • Samantha J. Gross • January 11, 2019

Groveland Four Pardons came too late for Four Innocent Black Men:
Miami Herald • Bea Hines • January 16, 2019

As the case of the Groveland Four was being argued in courtrooms, in the mid-1950s Mabel stepped up once again – this time to defend the Platts, a poor family whose children were suspected of being ‘negroes’ who were not allowed to attend Mount Dora’s whites-only public schools. Mabel’s extensive coverage on the Platt children and their legal battle to remain in school earned the attention of the national media, led to a nomination for a Pulitzer Prize for her articles in the Mount Dora Topic, and infuriated Sheriff McCall and his allies in the Ku Klux Klan who launched a campaign of terror and intimidation to get her to back down.

Naturally… she didn’t.

As with the case of the Groveland Four, the story of Jesse Daniels might have faded from memory had it not been for Gilbert King’s recent work ‘Beneath a Ruthless Sun’ which revealed the harrowing story of a poor, mentally disabled teenager being framed for a crime he didn’t commit. When he was committed without trial to the Florida State Hospital for the Insane, Mabel joined forces with Jesse’s mother and used the power of the printed word in a quest for justice.

“…In her efforts to free her son, Pearl Daniels had help. A journalist by the name of Mabel Norris (Reese) Chesley took an interest in what she quickly determined to be a grave injustice, and she began a years-long crusade, writing more than a hundred stories about Jesse’s case. As a journalist, Mabel could not accept Jesse Daniels falling through the cracks. Mabel and Pearl became fast friends. Neither of them would back down from a fight.” Gilbert King

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Gilbert King researching second Lake book
Lake Sentinel • Lauren Ritchie • July 24, 2014

Review: Gilbert King’s Beneath a Ruthless Sun a Compelling, Horrifying Look at Florida’s Racist History
Tampa Bay Times • Collette Bancroft • April 20, 2018

Beneath A Ruthless Sun, Cruelty and Injustice Burn Hot
National Public Radio • Jean Zimmerman • April 24, 2018

How a Racist Sheriff Railroaded a Disabled Teenager and Got Off
New York Times • Jeffrey Toobin • May 3, 2018

Pulitzer Winner Returns to a Florida County Controlled by a Monstrous Sheriff in Beneath a Ruthless Sun
Dallas Morning News • Chris Vognar • May 15, 2018

Chronicling Florida's Racist Past: An Interview with Gilbert King
Sarasota magazine • David Hackett • May 8, 2018

Gilbert King Talks Race, Injustice in 1950s Florida
Tallahassee Democrat • Randy Skerritt • May 11, 2018

Beneath a Ruthless Sun - Fearless Women, Bizarre Injustice
Orlando Sentinel • Hal Bodeker • May 18, 2018

Disabled Man Framed for Rape in 1950s Lake County Dies
Daily Commercial • Gilbert King • June 22, 2018

Main character in Pulitzer Prize-winning author's story of miscarriage of justice dies in Daytona Beach
Orlando Sentinel • Lauren Ritchie • June 22,2018

Service Held for Man Falsely Accused in Lake County Rape
Daily Commercial  July 9, 2018

After artist Jim McNalis accepted the commission to created a tangible message of courage, persistence, and determination, he continued to provide images of the work from its origins as a 50-pound bag of Italian terra cotta and an armature to support it to what became the completed clay original. Currently being bronzed, additional images will be shared during each stage of its creation. More about the Artist

Jim Mabel 34

THANK YOU TO OUR DONORS

Art of Medicine Foundation: “I was born and raised in Eustis in Lake County as was my wife, father and father-in-law.  I remember the “White” and “Black” drinking fountains and bathrooms in the Lake County Court House.  As a 7-year-old, I just couldn’t figure it out.  The more the horrific racism in this county can be exposed the better in order to try to end the racism that is rampant in this county still!”

Kathleen Sullivan: “She could not, would not suffer wrongs in silence. She was incredibly and relentlessly courageous in her fight for justice.”

Anonymous: “It is important to honor those who stand up for justice, especially racial justice.”

Aimee Fenneman

Eric Santella

Linda Hull: “When I was a junior at EHS in 1969, Sheriff McCall came on campus, with deputies and dogs, in response to a misguided report of racially-charged violence on campus. I was naive enough to approach him with the real story. I didn't realize then how bold I had been.”

Farley Chase

Anonymous: “She was a woman of integrity and bravery.”

Dorothy Tellin

Janice Streeter

Shan and Chuck Linn

Ann and Steve Koziol

Lisa French

Ilene Rand

Mary Ann Anerio

Brian Buchner: “Mabel Norris Reese's story of bravery in the pursuit of truth, justice, and humanity must be known, and must be remembered.  Superheroes may not exist, but real heroes do. We should honor them.”

Jill Greenberg

Nancy McCullough

Anonymous: “I care about social injustice and I want the world to be a better place.”

Well Red Book Club: “We believe in Mabel's goals for a free press and applaud her courageous actions on behalf of the Platt family, the Groveland Four and Jesse Daniels.”

Peggy Smith-Herbst: “A brave, tenacious, and smart woman who fought injustice against tremendous odds.”

Alma Otwell

GoFundMe Team: “A donation as part of our Gives Back program. Thanks for being a part of our community.”

Mary Miller: “Thanks to Gary and all involved with making Mabel's story as important as it should be!”

Lisa Jones: “Women like Mabel should be recognized to help remind us and inspire us.”

Susan Carol McCarthy: “As a girl growing up in rural Plymouth, women like Jean Yothers of the Orlando Sentinel, Mabel Norris Reese of the Mount Dora Topic, and the fictional Brenda Starr were my personal super heroes. They provided me with proof that my dream of growing up to be a published writer could, with a lot of hard work, become a reality. After my first novel was published, I had the privilege of thanking Jean Yothers in person. Although Mabel Norris Reese was gone by the time I wrote my second novel, she was its inspiration, and I was honored to express my heartfelt thanks to her daughter and granddaughter for Mabel's sterling example and courage.”

Laurie Tillett: “The value of a free press cannot be underestimated.  It is the underpinning of our democracy.”

Cynthia Chesley Erickson: “My grandmother was a wonderful person!”

Ann Whittington-Neely: “It was very difficult, but she stood against the establishment. Her memorial will have great educational value.”

Kim Norberg

Dorothy Tellin

Maria Slaby

Kate Johnson

Natalie Jones

William Carpenter: “A free press is vital to our democracy and Mabel Norris Reese is an exemplary member of that critically important society. She was courageous, a professional journalist, and an outstanding citizen of Lake County.”

Pam Jennelle

Cindy Duane

Savina Schoenhofer

Charlene Griffin: “Her integrity and courage need to be publicly honored and her story shared. We need this kind of role model for our children. Mabel Norris Reese is my hero.”

Rosella Todd Valentine: “Mabel is a real hero of our LLL group and she represents the very embodiment of the importance of a free press. I am so pleased to contribute to this fund to honor a true ‘Shero’ of Lake County, Florida!”

Jill Moss Greenberg: “Mabel's writing and advocacy for civil rights is still relevant to freedom of the press today.”

Janet Manchon

Anonymous

Laura Lambert

Constance Albright

Ricardo Rodriguez

Robert Schmidt: “We need more people like Mabel Norris Reese. She is a hero.”

Kathleen Weaver: “Mabel Norris Reese, a journalist who had the courage to write about the injustice in Lake County at the hands of the Sheriff Willis McCall.”

Howard Pospesel: “A hero who deserves to be honored.”

Sam King: “She is an American hero.”

Choice Edward: “Everyone in Lake County that seeks justice should donate something. This is my anti-Willis McCall gesture!”

Helen Huntley: “Mabel was a real hero and an inspiration to all who seek truth and justice.”

Helen Cutshaw: “When I worked with her at The News-Journal in Daytona Beach, I had no idea I was in the presence of such a brave woman.”

Laurie and Ed Tillett: “The truth will always be known.”

Rose Fitzpatrick: “Proud to contribute to a true heroine.”

Lauren Randel

John Tucker

Marc Crail

Doug Bryant

Judy Maylie

Susan Fetter: “I learned something today! Thanks!”

Crissy Stile: “It's time we celebrate this amazing woman’s accomplishments.”

Nancy Hurlbert: “Soooo much better than having a Confederate statue in our area!!!”

Charlene Griffin: “Her integrity and courage need to be publicly honored and her story shared. We need this kind of role model for our children. Mabel Norris Reese is my hero.”

Cheri Pierce

Patricia Spear

Christopher Timmons

Susan Maloy

Thomas Smith

Patricia Jackson

Bill L.: I care about social injustice and I want the world to be a better place

Bill & Beth Forbes

Mindy Stokoszynski

Mabel Inducted into the Lake County Women's Hall of Fame

On December 4, 2018 the Lake County Board of County Commissioners unanimously inducted Mabel Norris Reese into the Lake County Women's Hall of Fame, making her the 40th person to receive the honor. Author Gilbert King later said, "She was a trailblazer. She devoted her life to doing what was right at such a great cost to her, and it is right she be commended."

Qualifications for the honor, which celebrates outstanding accomplishments achieved by women in Lake County, include “significant contributions to the improvement of life for all citizens of Lake County” as well “a significant contribution (in the field of) community service.” Connie Albright who, in partnership with Nancy Hurlbert, nominated Reese for the honor, believes the pioneering journalist’s works met those criteria through positive changes that helped transform Lake County.

“Mabel was a woman who wouldn’t be intimidated. Men and women were frightened of Sheriff Willis McCall because he was a bully and a sociopathic killer. But despite threats to her life, she constantly stood up to him. She spoke up for people who didn’t have a voice. Whether it was exposing corruption in Lake County’s judicial system, combatting segregation, defending the Platt children, or working to free an unfortunate man like Jesse Daniels, she never backed down.”

Jim Mabel 30

Work on Mount Dora sculpture of Mabel Norris Reese Underway 

Leesburg Daily Commercial reporter Roxanne Brown hits a home run with this recap of the project...

MOUNT DORA — Efforts to honor the memory and legend of Mabel Norris Reese, an ardent civil rights activist, journalist, editor and owner of the Mount Dora Topic newspaper from 1947-1960, are underway in the form of a sculpture in her likeness.

It is part of the “Remember Mabel” campaign started by Mount Dora resident Gary McKechnie; Gilbert King, a Pulitzer Prize winning author who first shed light on Reese’s courage and accomplishments in his “Devil in the Grove” book; and a handful of locals wowed by her story.

(continue reading at the Daily Commercial)

Lauren Ritchie

No more tax money for museum until there is a legitimate Groveland Four exhibit

Lake Sentinel columnist Lauren Ritchie draws attention to the need for a Groveland Four exhibit at the Lake County Historical Museum.

(continue reading at the Orlando Sentinel)

MSS 1

Mabel overlooked in Florida Women's Hall of Fame selection process, receives coverage in Lake Sentinel

Lake Sentinel columnist Lauren Ritchie reflects on the effort to have Mabel inducted into the Florida Women's Hall of Fame and the project to honor her with a sculpted portrait. Here is Ritchie's column:

Supporters of the late journalist Mabel Norris Reese nominated the owner of the now-defunct Mount Dora Topic for induction into the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame several months ago.

Reese had a cross burned on her lawn and her dog slaughtered because she exposed a crooked sheriff who systematically framed blacks for crimes they didn’t commit. She kept writing in the face of threats to herself and her family.

(continue reading at the Orlando Sentinel)

ADDITIONAL READING

Committed to Memory Image

Committed to Memory
Orlando

Gary McKechnie and Nancy Howell

LSS Image

Devil in Lake County
Lake & Sumter Style

Gary McKechnie and Nancy Howell

Additional donations can be made at any Seacoast Bank, with deposits made
to the account of the Mabel Norris Reese Tribute Fund.

Tribute Fund Board of Directors
Gary McKechnie • Nancy Howell • Gilbert King • Bob Kealing • Crissy Stile