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Lay that Trumpet in Our Hands Teacher’s Guide

By Susan Carol McCarthy

Lay that Trumpet in Our Hands by Susan Carol McCarthy



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Note to Teachers

Opening with the brutal lynching of nineteen-year-old Marvin Cully, Lay That Trumpet in Our Hands recounts the events of the Florida Terror–nine months, between 1951 and 1952, when the Ku Klux Klan enforced their will with reckless abandon. The story is told through the eyes of twelve-year-old Reesa McMahon, who is trying to make sense of her world as racial tensions escalate in her once-serene central Florida hometown of Mayflower. Most of the major events in the plot are based on historical fact.

As a literary work, the novel lends itself well to the analysis of literary elements such as plot, character development, and setting. The writer’s craft can be analyzed through the author’s ample use of literary techniques such as foreshadowing, metaphor/simile, personification, symbolism, and irony. Themes such as prejudice, family values, friendship, grief, coming-of-age, and faith are addressed throughout the novel.

As a work of social commentary, Trumpet can serve as a catalyst for discussions and activities in social studies classrooms about federal versus states’ rights and the presidential election process. Trumpet’s story unfolds in a time when Jim Crow laws were at the peak of their power in the Deep South, and a number of major players of the period, both on the national and world scene, are either mentioned or have an active role in this book: Harry Truman, the Axis of Evil (Hitler, Mussolini, Hirohito), Jackie Robinson, Thurgood Marshall, and Harry T. Moore. In many ways, Trumpet lays bare the deep-seated bitterness the South has held against the North since Reconstruction.

Students from sixth grade through the college level will find the reading and analysis of Trumpet a rewarding experience. Because the protagonist is twelve years old, she describes the events in her life through her pre-adolescent eyes; however, the plot is sophisticated in nature, making this book an equally valuable text for older readers.

About This Book
Lay That Trumpet in Our Hands is a fictionalized account of racially charged events that occurred in Florida during the Deep South’s Jim Crow era.

In the novel, Reesa’s father, Warren McMahon, is called on in the wee hours of the morning to help a distressed African American friend find his son, who failed to return home on time. Reesa’s father and his friend find the young man brutally beaten and fatally wounded on Klan land. Appalled by the brazen actions of the Klan and the total lack of action by local and state authorities, Reesa’s father begins a letter writing campaign to the FBI. Unfortunately, this campaign thrusts his whole family into harm’s way. As a man of principle, he must stand up for what is right and just; as a husband and father, his heart wrenches at the exposure to the rising tide of Florida Terror that his actions have brought upon his young family.

Trumpet can be utilized in both a language arts and a social studies classroom. The themes in this book, as described in the preceding Note to Teachers, can be covered in varying degrees depending on the age group. While the book is certainly suitable for sixth grade through the college level, one note of caution at the middle school level is the author’s use of some profane language in character dialogue. Though it is used sparingly and provides for credible characterization, some students and their parents may consider it inappropriate.

This novel is a powerful testament to the social upheaval brought about by the civil rights movement. A number of primary sources from the post-WWII and civil rights movements can be found at the History Matters Web site: These materials can be used to supplement the reading of the book.

About the Author
Susan Carol McCarthy is a novelist who lives in San Diego, California. Born in central Florida, she received a BA in English Literature from the University of South Florida, continuing on to work for the advertising division of Walt Disney World in Orlando and for ad agencies in Atlanta and San Francisco. She eventually established herself as a full-time freelancer in San Diego.

In 1991, Susan Carol McCarthy received from her father a package of startling newspaper clippings and other materials from a recently unsealed 1950s-era federal court case. In an accompanying letter, her father wrote that since the court-mandated forty-year seal had finally been lifted, he had chosen to deliver these materials to the “writer” in his family so that she could tell the story. The letter and other materials revealed a sordid, racially charged episode in Florida’s history, and they told of her father’s role in providing evidence to the FBI of the local Klan’s involvement.

The novel is as much a tribute to her father’s legacy as it is a historical account of the Florida Terror years. McCarthy incorporated her father’s experiences, countless hours of research, and the relationships she established in her youth with the African American employees of her father’s citrus business to write this poignant first novel that has evoked comparisons to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

Discussion and Writing


Readers are given an explanation of the social texture of Florida during the late 1940s and early 1950s.
1.What site is Florida known for at this time?
2.What is the “social equivalent of a Molotov cocktail”?
3.What do newlyweds buy from a “fast-talking agent”?

Summary, Chapters 1—11
This section begins with the slaying of Marvin Cully, a nineteen-year-old black man and Reesa McMahon’s friend. The killing polarizes the small community of Mayflower. Twelve-year-old Reesa has trouble making sense not only of the act, but of the community’s response to it. As the plot progresses, Reesa watches her father being drawn further into the conflict. Reesa begins questioning her faith as she becomes conscious of the world beyond her family–a world capable of punishing good and rewarding evil.

Chapter 1
4.What did Luther and Reesa’s father do early in the morning? Why couldn’t Reesa participate?
5.Why is Reesa’s grandmother called Doto?
6.Who is Emmett Casselton?
7.What is so unusual about Doto’s bedsheets? How are these sheets and her car illustrative of her personality?
8.Who is in the back of the truck? How did Reesa react? Why?

Chapter 2
9.What did Mr. Swann leave in the house after selling it to Reesa’s family?
10.What disease did Reesa’s father contract the summer she was born? What is its lasting effect?
11.Describe Constable Watts’s reaction to Marvin’s death.
12.What happens at the Lakeview Inn in Mount Laura? Why is it so shocking to Reesa?

Chapter 3
13.Why won’t the Constable investigate Marvin’s death?
14.To whom does Reesa’s father write a letter when requesting an investigation?

Chapter 4
15.How did Doto get Reesa to go to school after the funeral?
16.How did the bee get its stripes and its wings? Who told Reesa the story?
17.What does Reesa notice about May Carol’s hands? Why do you think they are in that condition?

Chapter 5
18.What is Reesa’s favorite part of Palm Sunday? How did Marvin help her?
19.Briefly describe the Lake County “business.”
20.Who is the New York NAACP attorney?
21.Why did the U.S. Supreme Court demand a retrial of the Groveland Four?

Chapter 6
22.What was “Dry Sink” once called?

Chapter 7
23.How does Luther get the sheet music for the St. Johns A.M.E. choir? Why does he get it this way?
24.Why wouldn’t Luther address Reesa’s parents simply as Warren and Lizbeth?
25.What new information about Marvin’s death is provided in this chapter?

Chapter 8
26.What is ironic about Reesa’s recurring dream in the beginning of this chapter?
27.How did Miz Sooky get her idea for an all-white garden?
28.What sign does Reesa notice for the first time? Why is she now noticing it?

Chapter 9
29.How does Lucy Garnet try to persuade Armetta to return to the Garnet house? Does it work? Explain why or why not.
30.Describe how Lucy Garnet is dressed. What does this tell you about her character?

Chapter 10
31.Who was named the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Most Valuable Player in 1949?
32.How did Marvin describe “the big deal about baseball” to Reesa?

Chapter 11
33.What does Luther pull out of his shirt pocket? Why is he so proud of it?
34.What is Harry T. Moore trying to get black people to do?
35.Who owns the lands on Round Lake Road and Winter Garden Road?
36.Describe the four documents Warren McMahon retrieves from the file in his office.

Summary, Chapters 12—18
Kindred spirits meet at the beginning of this section, and Reesa and Vaylie remain pen pals throughout the remainder of the novel. Also in this section, characters become more fully realized, mysteries are revealed, and Reesa recognizes that racial prejudice is more far-reaching than she previously thought.

Chapter 12
37.Why is Reesa’s first meeting with Miss Maybelle’s grandniece, Maryvale, a pleasant surprise?
38.Describe the rattler race.
39.How does Reesa’s father describe Florida?
40.Whose wedding plans did Reesa and Vaylie discover in the attic? Why is this discovery so heartbreaking?

Chapter 13
41.What did Reesa find interesting about Harry T. Moore in the first few pages of this chapter?
42.What else do we find out about Maybelle’s fiancé from Vaylie’s letter to Reesa?

Chapter 14
43.Describe the misunderstanding about the juice price between Reesa and the father of the twins.
44.What was Reesa’s reaction to being called a “Jew”? Why was she called that?
45.What name do the initials “J. D.” on the belt of the twins’ father represent? What does Reesa claim that he did?
46.What happens in Miami during the course of this chapter?
47.What do Harry Moore and Thurgood Marshall expect the FBI to do?

Chapter 15
48.What is ironic about the Fourth of July events described in this chapter?
49.Which ethnic groups are included in the Klan’s “trinity of hate”?
50.What comparison does Reesa draw with the recent bombings and her present relationships?
51.Which three wars has Reesa experienced as of July 14, 1951?
52.What good news is mentioned in this chapter?

Chapter 16
53.What happened at the Coral Gables Jewish Center in August?
54.How does Reesa know who is in the truck pursuing the rental car? Why is this ironic?
55.How did Luther find out who was in the car that is being chased? Who was it?
56.According to Warren, what does C.I.A. mean?

Chapter 17
57.What did the Orlando Klan blow up? Why did they target it?
58.Who is Reesa worried about the most in this chapter? Why?

Chapter 18
59.Describe the characters who Reesa compares to snakes a “whole lot meaner than the reptile kind.” Why does she feel this way?

Summary, Chapters 19—25
This section opens with faithful Jackie Robinson/Brooklyn Dodgers fans gathering around a TV at Tomasinis’ store to watch the Dodgers’ final pennant game against the New York Giants.The game’s outcome sets the tone for the following chapters in this section. Whatever was right in Reesa’s world becomes lost behind the wafting, sulfuric smell of dynamite fog. In the wake of senseless tragedy, her mother retreats behind a Poker Face, and Reesa worries that she will never return. In the midst of the confusion, voices of truth begin to be heard. Reesa’s father is among those voices.

Chapter 19
60.Why is it so upsetting that the Brooklyn Dodgers lose to the New York Giants?
61.Who does Reesa blame for the loss? Why?
62.Why do you think the author dedicates an entire chapter to baseball?

Chapter 20
63.Who recounts the events that occurred as Sheriff McCall transported Mr. Irvin and Mr. Shepherd from Raiford State Prison to Tavares? What happened?

Chapter 21
64.What happened in Miami on December 4, 1951? How long did it take? How much time was there between events? Describe the buildings.
65.Why does Reesa think that her mother is keeping her Poker Face on?

Chapter 22
66.What threats have Sal and Sophia received? Why did they receive them? What have they decided to do?
67.What is the content of the TV newscast? How does Reesa channel her anger?

Chapter 23
68.Describe the gentlemen in the “plain black Ford.” What are their physical characteristics? What are they wearing? For whom do they work?

Chapter 24
69.According to the rules, what is a shopkeeper supposed to do? Does Reesa approve? Why or why not?

Chapter 25
70.Who replaced Armetta at the Garnet house?
71.How do May Carol’s mother and Reesa’s mother interact differently with their daughters?
72.Why does Reesa throw the watermelon? What does Selma do?
73.What surprises Reesa’s father at the end of this chapter?

Summary, Chapters 26—32
Now that word is getting out on a national and international level that something is terribly amiss in the state of Florida, the FBI actively seeks to dismantle the Klan. Reesa’s father works with the FBI to curtail future Klan activities. A near-death experience jolts Reesa into reality about her family’s precarious situation. She now realizes that her family’s endeavor to bring Marvin’s killer(s) to justice has resulted in a struggle for her own family’s survival.

Chapter 26
74.Mr. Jameson says, “We’re operating in a bit of a vacuum here….” What does he mean?
75.Describe how Reesa responds to her mother’s scolding when Reesa overhears a private, adult conversation. How do her parents react to her response?

Chapter 27
76.How does Doto describe the McMahon family? Who is stronger?

Chapter 28
77.Who owns the grapefruit grove where Ren’s friend Petey lives?
78.What does Reesa realize after Ren’s encounter? Why is she finally afraid?

Chapter 29
79.Briefly describe the plan to raid the fishing camp.
80.How is Reesa’s father going to communicate the evidence he finds to Mr. Jameson?

Chapter 30
81.How does Armetta find out about the meeting at Lake Eola on Friday night?

Chapter 31
82.What does Luther mean when he asks in his prayer to “lay that trumpet in our hands”?
83.What happened in Ocoee? What did Armetta’s family do?

Chapter 32
84.Briefly describe the inside and outside of the fishing camp building.
85.Describe the contents in the secret compartment. Who owns the Bible?
86.What is Emmett Casselton’s title?
87.Why is one retrieved item more disturbing than the rest?

Summary, Chapters 33—40
The aftermath of Warren McMahon’s fact-finding mission causes major upheavals in the Klan. Their misdeeds are reported widely in newspapers, and the power of the Klan begins to fade. Even in this diminished state, however, the Klan is still dangerous: a serene Sunday brunch is disturbed by word that the Klan is seeking revenge against the McMahons.

Chapter 33
88.What is the difference between a state crime and a federal crime? Why is this important to those who are subpoenaed?
89.What happens to Lucy Garnet? Why?
90.Who does Reesa claim are the only ones suffering since Marvin’s death? Why?

Chapter 34
91.How do the presidential candidates’ tours of Mayflower differ? Why do you think the author describes these events?
92.Who won the Florida primary? Why was the vote closer than expected?

Chapter 35
93.What is the McMahon family’s “final nightmare”?

Chapter 36
94.How are Vaylie’s and Reesa’s situations similar? How do Vaylie’s mother and Reesa’s parents cope with their situations?

Chapter 37
95. How has the McMahon family’s routine changed?
96.With what federal crime is J. D. Bowman charged?

Chapter 38
97.Who is waiting for the McMahons when they return home from the restaurant?
98.What does Reesa’s father try to convince her mother to do? Why?

Chapter 39
99.Briefly describe Mr. McMahon’s actions in the chapter. What do they tell you about him?
100.What insights does Reesa have as she meditates in the oak tree?

Chapter 40
101.With whom does Reesa’s father speak? How does he guarantee the gentleman’s agreement?
102.How does the last sentence in the chapter indicate that the family’s troubles are over?

The final details of the Klan trial are wrapped up. Reesa returns from law school to attend a hometown funeral, and to discover that Mayflower is in the fruits of recovery from the Florida Terror. Secret friends reveal themselves via Marvin’s special sign.

103.Why didn’t the Klansmen go to jail?
104.What does Reesa’s father become to the local community? How is he paid?
105.What do you think Reesa means by the last sentence?

Suggested Activities
Language Arts
1.Create a graphic organizer that charts the personalities of the main characters.
2.Create a timeline of events in Lay That Trumpet in Our Hands.
3.Keep a journal that lists examples of some of the themes in the novel: prejudice, family values, friendship, grief, coming-of-age, faith. Select one theme and write an essay in which you describe the author’s perspective, and discuss why you agree or disagree with her perspective. Have these issues evolved in American culture in any way since the 1950s?
4.Compile a book of poetry based on the themes, implementing the literary techniques incorporated in the novel.
5.Investigate the author’s use of climate and weather to advance the story.

Social Studies

1.Look through current newspapers and area magazines for examples of hate crimes in your area and around the world. Write a short summary of the issues and discuss whether or not they are being resolved. Create a scrapbook of both the articles and the summaries.
2.Research historical figures in the book, and write about them in the form of an obituary. You may wish to choose from the following: Joseph Stalin, Emperor Hirohito, Benito Mussolini, Adolph Hitler, Estes Kefauver, Willis McCall, Harry T. Moore, Thurgood Marshall, Al Capone, J. Edgar Hoover, Walter Irvin, Sam Shepherd, Fuller Warren, or Harry Truman.
3.Research one or more of the following: the Groveland Four case; the Ocoee race riots; the December 4, 1952, bombings in Miami; or the December 25, 1951, murders of Harry T. and Harriette Moore. Create a period newspaper about the event(s). Include pictures.
4.On a Florida road map, locate the following places: Plymouth and Apopka (which McCarthy renamed Mayflower and Opalakee), State Route 441/The Orange Blossom Trail, Mt. Dora, Groveland, Tavares, Orlando, Eatonville, and Ocoee. Write a brief history of each.
5.Create a T-chart. Label one side “Federal Jurisdiction” and the other “State Jurisdiction.” List the crimes mentioned in this book in the appropriate category. Lead a class discussion about states’ rights versus federal government rights under the Constitution.

(book chapters in parentheses)
Prologue: Molotov cocktail
Chapters 1—11: bivouac (5) vestibule (6) cantata (7) tutelage (11)
Chapters 17—25: kudzu (17) whorls (18) cesspool (20) manifesto (24) simper (25)
Chapters 26—32: jurisdiction (33) subpoena (33) perjure (33) strident (33)
Chapters 33—40: Pinkertons (34) indictments (37)
In addition, what are polio and scarlet fever? How are they contracted?

Beyond the Book
The first three exercises can best be administered using multimedia options, such as: PowerPoint, Flash movies, IMovies, MovieMaker, and Google Earth projects.

1.Assign a global project in which students research a present-day social injustice and create a report.
2.Assign a research project in which students investigate life in their state during the 1950s. Have students compare/contrast their findings with life in Florida in the 1950s and create a report.
3.Have students research prominent African Americans or anti—hate crime activists in your area and create a report.
4.Form a civil rights (anti-hate) team in your school or community. For further ideas, visit
5.Trumpet has been compared to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Ask students to read both and compare the actions of the two fathers as seen through the eyes of their offspring.
6.Have students examine the history of civil rights from Reconstruction to the 2007 Supreme Court rulings on school choice.
7.Poignant documentaries that highlight the civil rights era can be ordered from the Teaching Tolerance organization in Montgomery, Alabama. Visit their Web site at An Order Form for free materials and videos is available on this site.
8.Students may also want to examine the life and times of civil rights martyr Harry T. Moore by watching Freedom Never Dies, produced and directed by Sandra Dickson and Churchill Roberts, and by reading Before His Time, by Ben Green.
9.Direct students to investigate the Florida Terror years using or

Other Titles of Interest

Before His Time, Ben Green
Blood Done Sign My Name, Timothy B. Tyson
A Land Remembered, Patrick Smith
Medical Apartheid, Harriet A. Washington
Mississippi Trial, 1955, Chris Crowe
Monster, Walter Dean Myers
Obasan, Joy Kogawa
Sundown Towns, James W. Loewen
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

About this Guide’s Writer
Judith Turner
teaches U.S. History at Terrace Community Middle School, Thonotosassa, Florida. She is also the TCMS Lead Teacher and Subject Area Leader for Social Studies. Her teaching experience is in middle grades language arts and social studies.

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