Professor feels backlash from exposing children's writer as a racist

December 04, 1991|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Evening Sun Staff

Be it known that Dan T. Carter sticks to his guns.

As the history professor who broke the news that the best-selling book "The Education of Little Tree" was written by a white supremacist, Carter has received much backlash -- and not all of it good.

"A couple of angry ones, some really nasty letters," he said. "Several of my friends who loved the book have schooled me about it. They're down on me."

He's adamant about his discovery, and he's gotten many calls, most notably from Hollywood producers who were bidding for the rights to "Little Tree" to make a movie. Several rescinded their bids after talking to Carter, who told them the author -- Forrest Carter -- was actually Asa Carter, a right-wing racist radical who once wrote speeches for Alabama Gov. George Wallace. He is credited with writing Wallace's remark, ''Segregation now. Segregation tomorrow. Segregation forever."

Professor Carter has said that Asa Carter, who died in 1979, may have been a distant relative of his.

When fans of "The Education of Little Tree" discover that its author "was psychotic about his hatred for blacks and Jews, it makes them mad," he said. "The way they cope with it is calling me a liar, as some people have, or saying Asa Carter changed."

In researching the life of Wallace for a book he's writing, Carter talked to friends and family members and discovered that Wallace's one-time speech writer penned "Little Tree," a memoir of an orphan who went to live with his Cherokee grandparents in 1930s Tennessee. Carter, a history professor at Emory University in Georgia, calls the book a hoax.

"Asa Carter had a visceral hatred for blacks," he said. "He's a little more cautious when he talked about Jews, but he was anti-Semitic."

Dan Carter's about to finish his own book on Wallace, who ran unsuccessfully for the presidency four times. He'll be speaking at Gilman School tomorrow night.

"The Education of Little Tree" is a spiritual narrative of getting in touch with the universe and Indian ways. It was first released in 1976. Carter said a newspaper reporter in Montgomery, Ala., first wrote about the identity of Asa-Forrest Carter back then, but there was little reaction at the time.

The University of New Mexico Press reissued "Little Tree" in 1986 in hardback with little fanfare and small sales -- only 2,000 copies. But a year later, as a paperback, sales doubled and then skyrocketed. The book was No. 1 on the New York Times paperback best-seller list in October. The book's popularity presented an opportune time to spill the beans, Carter said.

"It didn't make me mad, but it did annoy me," he said. "I have some regard for what's truthful."

As for the book itself, Carter gives it a thumbs down. "As a piece of literature, I don't think it's very good," he said. The book is not racist or anti-Semitic.

The Asa Carter/Forrest Carter connection was just one discovery made during the professor's research. He also believes that Wallace is to the past what David Duke is to the present: a man pulling the strings of the disgruntled American middle class.

"Race was at the core of what Wallace was talking about," he said. "He tapped into the growing disenchantment of American blue-collar working class in the sense that they were being bypassed by politicians and politics in 1960 and 1970."

Duke, a recently defeated candidate for governor of Louisiana and former Ku Klux Klan member, was expected to announce his candidacy for the presidency today. Although Wallace and Duke hit the same nerve, they have vastly different styles, Carter said.

"Wallace was the politician of the old school, who spoke in great arenas with vast audiences and huge cheering crowds, which he played like a master violinist, whereas Duke is the more quintessential television person who has the same message but he packs it more aesthetically -- for television," he said. "He's a TV star, he ought to be on a soap opera . . . from the plastic surgery to the voice lessons that taught him to speak for television."

Dan T. Carter speaks at the Alumni Auditorium at Gilman School, 5407 Roland Ave., at 8 tomorrow. The public is invited.

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