HOW A HARD CORE
KU KLUX KLANNER
Reinvented himself as a wise Native American best selling author
And how no one found him out
April 21, 2012
Ku Klux Klan members burning a cross, Denver, Colorado 1921. Asa Carter went on to create his own “klavern” called the Original Ku Klux Klan of the Confederacy. CLICK TO ENLARGE
The fiery segregationist Asa Earl Carter in 1956 prior to his reinvention as the Indian sage and storyteller Forrest Carter. CLICK TO ENLARGE
Asa Earl Carter as he looked after reinventing himself as the kindly Indian sage and storyteller Forrest Carter. CLICK TO ENLARGE
(MONROE, WA) — This is one of those almost unbelievable stories that, if it were the plot of a movie script, no one would buy it. The story seems too far out there. It is also a story of the failure – not to mention the gullibility – of many in the news business, the TV business and the book-publishing world to sniff out a phony.
Some readers may be familiar with this story as the information in it is not new. But many younger readers likely have never heard the tall tale of a man named Asa.
It is the true tale of how a Ku Klux Klan man who once wrote speeches for the late segregationist Alabama Gov. George Wallace (until he thought Wallace had gone “soft” and sold out to liberals) who then later, as a reinvented “Native American” writer named Forrest Carter, was praised by Oprah Winfrey and others.
It is the stunning story of a man many might consider dangerous who, from all accounts, could shape shift himself at will into a new past, a new present and a new identity – of a non-white person of all things – and go on to become a best selling American writer.
It’s the saga of a man preaching a vision from a grand stage constructed from nothing but swamp gas and dime store illusions and how no one, from book publishers and editors to famous TV news people to print and TV interviewers caught on to his real identity.
He took them all down for the count in perhaps one of the greatest straight up con jobs ever pulled on the American media.
He got the fame, the money, success and easily carried off what con artists call “the long con.”
A WOOL PULLER AND MASTER OF THE LONG CON
If you want to know how easy it is to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes then meet Asa Earl Carter who thirty years before his “Indian” writing days was a Ku Klux Klan organizer, a fierce segregationist, racist propagandist and a talk show host who preached the dangers of integration.
How hard-core was Carter?
“In 1963, he drafted an inaugural address for Alabama Gov. George Wallace that would become one of the most notorious speeches of the civil rights era,” says a new story by National Public Radio about Carter that was produced for the radio program All Things Considered by Joe Richman and Samara Freemark of Radio Diaries with consulting editors Deborah George and Ben Shapiro.
Also contributing to the story were the producers of the TV documentary The Reconstruction of Asa Carter which is airing on PBS stations through April.
Carter was the guy who wrote these famous words for Governor Wallace:
“In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!”
Later, after he thought Wallace had jumped in bed with liberals he actually ran against Wallace in the 1970 Democratic gubernatorial primary.
Carter was the same man who years later penned a best selling and highly acclaimed “autobiography of a Native American orphan struggling against racism,” called “The Education of Little Tree.”
A GREAT LITERARY HOAX
The book, now recognized as fiction, recounts the childhood remembrances of an orphaned Native American boy living with his Cherokee grandparents in a mountain log cabin in eastern Tennessee during the 1930s. Since its first publication in 1976 the book has sold more than 1 million copies.
Originally accepted by the literary and broader media community as an actual work by a Cherokee Indian, The Education of Little Treenow ranks as one of the great literary hoaxes of American literature.
An article by John C. Hopwood in 2008 puts into perspective who Asa Earl Carter really was down deep in the fiber of his being.
“Asa Earl Carter (after being fired in 1953 from radio station WILD in Birmingham for expressing anti-Semitic views on-air) subsequently formed his own “klavern” of the Ku Klux Klan, again an offshoot or splinter group of recognized organizations, that he called the Original Ku Klux Klan of the Confederacy. With Jessie Mabry, he began publishing The Southerner, a racist newspaper.
Members of Carter’s klavern stoned an African American woman who attempted to register as a student at the University of Alabama, assaulted (the then popular singer) Nat King Cole during a Birmingham performance in 1956, and beat civil rights leader Fred Shuttleworth and his wife (who was stabbed).
The wave of violence initiated by Carter’s klavern culminated in the castration of an African American handyman, who nearly bled to death. Mabry and three other members of the Carter klavern were convicted of the crime, and were sentenced to twenty years in jail. (A parole board appointed by Governor George Wallace commuted the sentences of Mabry and the three others in 1963.)
Carter was not implicated in the brutal castration/attempted murder of the African American handyman (an incident that is featured in Tennessee Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth), but his propensity for violence was extremely pronounced. He shot two fellow Klansmen in a dispute over the klavern’s finances, but was not charged. He would later die from complications caused by a fist-fight with his own son.”
AFTER REBIRTH AS AN INDIAN AND WRITER, TV AND HOLLYWOOD COME CALLING
When his career in Alabama’s politics and segregation movement ended Carter reinvented himself as a writer of Western novels.
Hopwood writes he took the pen name “Forrest Carter,” and took as his new “Christian name” the surname of Nathan Bedford Forrest — the founder of the Ku Klux Klan.
By 1975 Carter found himself on NBC’s The Today Show being interviewed by Barbara Walters who bought everything Carter was selling (he told her he had “wrangled horses” and when he lived in Oklahoma he was “the storyteller to the Cherokee Nation.”)
His first Western novel, The Rebel Outlaw: Josey Wales, was made into the hit 1976 movie “The Outlaw Josey Wales,” starring and directed by Clint Eastwood.
Carter was paid $35,000 for the book’s movie rights. After the Eastwood film was released, The New York Times revealed that Forrest Carter was Asa Earl Carter, the segregationist.
In addition to his sequel to Josey Wales, Carter wrote a second Western novel about Geronimo and after that his block-buster The Education of Little Tree: A True Story, which he claimed was a memoir of “Forrest Carter,” Cherokee sage.
Although slow starting in sales the book eventually went on to became Delacorte’s best-selling book ever — over a million copies sold.
The University of New Mexico acquired the title in 1985. For its initial edition it printed a dust-jacket biography claiming, untruthfully, that “Forrest Carter, whose Indian name is Little Tree, was known as ‘Storyteller in Council’ to the Cherokee Nations.”
And no one checked with the Cherokee Nations to see if that was true.
AFTER HIS DEATH, BOOK SALES REALLY TAKE OFF
Carter died in 1979 after finishing a draft screenplay for his Josey Wales sequel. His Geronimo book was published posthumously. In fact, in the 1990’s four of his books were published.
In 1991, Education of Little Tree now published by the University of New Mexico Press with the A True Story subtitle dropped, became a #1 best-seller on The New York Times paperback non-fiction best-seller list.
The book was later moved to the fiction list, which it also topped, says Hopwood, and won the American Booksellers Book of the Year Award.
There’s a historian named Dan Carter (no relation) says the NPR story who’s working on a book about Asa and he claims fans of The Education of Little Tree should have known that it wasn’t for real.
For one thing, the Cherokee words that Forrest Carter used in his “memoir” weren’t Cherokee. They weren’t anything. They were made up out of thin air.
Carter spent the last half of his adult life trying to deny his past, to conceal his background as a Klansman and segregationist. He claimed in that 1976 New York Times article that he, Forrest Carter, was not Asa Carter.
When he died in Abilene, Texas June 7, 1979 the cause of death was reported as heart failure, but alleged to have resulted from a fistfight with his son.
His body was returned to Alabama for burial near Anniston. No family members attended his funeral.
To this day his tombstone reads Asa Earl Carter.