Related topics

Best Seller Was Written by Former Klansman

October 4, 1991 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ Years before he wrote ″The Education of Little Tree,″ the sensitive, best-selling autobiography of a Cherokee orphan, the same author wrote these words for George Wallace: ″Segregation now 3/8 Segregation tomorrow 3/8 Segregation forever 3/8″

Forrest Carter, the author, was really Asa ″Ace″ Carter, ardent white segregationist, according to Carter’s brother, his friends, and historians who have checked into his background.

″There’s no question who this guy really was,″ Professor Dan T. Carter of Emory University said Friday in a telephone interview from Atlanta. ″The New Age guru was a gun-toting racist, and this book is a hoax.″

Doug Carter, Asa’s brother, told the Birmingham, Ala., Post-Herald that Asa used a pen name because, ″He was trying to separate the political writer from the creative novel writing.″

Asa Carter was a leading advocate of segregation in Alabama in the 1950s. He formed a paramilitary unit of about 100 men known as the Original Ku Klux Klan of the Confederacy. He was arrested in 1957 in connection with a Klan shooting, but charges were dropped.

Carter also wrote speeches for Wallace, but later ran for governor of Alabama against him, saying Wallace had become too liberal.

″The Education of Little Tree″ has sold about 500,000 paperback copies, and this year the American Booksellers Association voted it the book they most enjoyed selling.

Reports that Forrest Carter was Asa Carter are at least 15 years old. In 1976, The New York Times printed a story that quoted several people who knew Asa as saying he was Forrest. The chief investigator in the state attorney general’s office recognized him when he was interviewed on the ″Today″ program.

But Forrest denied the charges, and Eleanor Friede, Carter’s editor at Delacorte Press, stood by him. Several months later, Delacorte published ″Little Tree.″ It did not sell well, and eventually went out of print. Forrest Carter died in 1979 in Abilene, Texas, where he lived.

In the mid-1980s, Friede sent the book to the University of New Mexico Press, which re-issued it after submitting it to two historians for review.

The book received little advance publicity, but enthusiastic readers spread the word. The book has been No. 1 on The New York Times’ non-fiction paperback best seller list for the past three weeks.

The book purports to be Carter’s memoir of his days as the orphan Little Tree, who went to live with his Cherokee grandparents in Tennessee in the 1930s and learned to love the mountains and Indian ways. Its cover describes the book as ″a true story.″

Elizabeth Hadas, director of the University of New Mexico press, said she knew nothing about Carter’s past when the book was published, but read of the controversy afterward in a scholarly journal. She said she did not plan to stop the printing of additional copies, or to change the book jacket description.

″I think the book has strong literary values, and my guess is there’s quite a bit of truth in it,″ she said. ″I don’t know it’s fiction. I don’t know what it is.″

In an interview Friday, Eleanor Friede refused to admit Forrest was Asa, blaming the controversy on ″a family mix-up.″

″I do not know his past personal history,″ she admitted. ″I can only speak for the time I knew him, and if such a transformation of character did occur, it would be a miracle.″

Carter’s widow, India, could not be reached for comment. Friede said Mrs. Carter ″doesn’t feel comfortable using the telephone,″ but had faxed her a message saying she would not respond to ″these diabolical charges.″

Professor Carter, who said he may be a distant cousin of Asa Carter, plans to present evidence that Forrest was Asa in an upcoming book or article. He said he learned of Asa’s second life while working on a biography of Wallace.

Wayne Greenhaw, author of a biography of Wallace, said Wallace’s brother Gerald knew Forrest was Asa. Asa ″told Gerald how much money his books were making,″ said Greenhaw.

Forrest Carter wrote several other books, including a novel that was made into the film ″The Outlaw Josey Wales.″

Lawrence Clayton, a dean at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, said he knew Forrest for many years and learned about his segregationist past only after his death. He said he believes the author sincerely changed his attitudes.

″Carter created a fictitious life for himself and lived it,″ Clayton said. ″In years here, he became Little Tree. I think he just turned his back on his earlier life.″