In the turbulent spring of 1951, central Florida became notoriously linked to a vicious series of Ku Klux Klan activities. The racial, religious, and political mix that populated Reesa McMahon's childhood hometown of Mayflower that same year was, as her Northern-born father remarked, "the social equivalent of a Molotov cocktail." The upheaval her family experiences in the coming-of-age novel Lay That Trumpet in Our Hands
by Susan Carol McCarthy--which is based on actual events from her own life--abruptly ends Reesa's girlish sense of security. When her friend Marvin Cully, a black orange-picker who works for her father, is killed by the local Opalakee Klan, she realizes how much her liberal family stands out in opposition to the men with white sheets and guns who, unmasked, served as the pillars of the local community. While making sense of Marvin's death and slowly realizing the extent to which her fellow townsfolk brandish their racist attitudes, Reesa watches her own house become the unofficial center of the resistance. The author notes her arguably sensible reasons for fictionalizing her accounts, but the resulting story doesn't move beyond the confines of a young girl's mind. --Emily Russin
From Publishers Weekly
Basing her first novel on real events in central Florida in 1951, McCarthy offers an evocative if overly familiar picture of the racist South at the start of the civil rights movement. She tells her story through the eyes of 12-year-old Reesa McMahon, whose transplanted Yankee parents are relative newcomers in the small community of Mayflower. The local Opalakee Klan terrorizes and murders young black citrus picker Marvin Cully, who works for the McMahons' growing and shipping company. Aware that the local police are corrupt Klan members, Reesa's father decides to contact the FBI. Soon, NAACP attorney Thurgood Marshall is called in to the case, and barely escapes with his life when the Klan attempts to abduct him. Bombings of black housing projects and Jewish congregations occur in other parts of Florida. When the leader of Florida's NAACP and his wife are murdered in Miami, there are indications that the Opalakee Klan is involved. Because he decides to cooperate with the FBI investigation, Reesa's father puts the family into danger. Reesa is an engaging narrator, obsessed with the murder of her friend Marvin, slowly becoming aware of the virulent hatred and bigotry that coexists with their neighbors' generosity, good manners and Baptist spiritual fervor. As McCarthy establishes the domestic and social routines of an inbred community, she also takes pains to render Reesa as an impressionable preadolescent, though she credits her with insights beyond her age. Still, the sincerity of her tale and its simple telling would make the book as interesting to young adult readers as it will be to those who remember or want to learn about the tangled moral questions of the '50s. Agent, Lane Zachary. (Feb.)sealed for 40 years.
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