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One of my favorite children's books growing up was the Education of Little Tree. This is a popular children's book in the US about a child who goes to live with his Cherokee grandparents in Appalachia during the Great Depression. The story was supposed to be based loosely on the author, Forrest Carter, real life.

According to a very well-referenced Wikipedia article, this book was actually written by a white man with no Cherokee ancestry, real name Asa Carter, who used to be in the KKK and was the speech writer for the famous racist politician, George Wallace.

I will excerpt a few passages:

Carter had been an active participant in several White supremacist organizations, including the Ku Klux Klan and the White Citizens' Council. He was also a speechwriter for Alabama Governor George Wallace, for whom he allegedly wrote Wallace's famous line "Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever." Although Carter claimed to be part Cherokee, in 1970 he ran for governor of Alabama against Wallace and others (Wallace eventually won another term after a runoff), on a White supremacist platform, finishing last among the candidates listed on the Democratic Party ballot.

Forrest Carter denies that he is Asa Carter. The connection seems entirely based on a "distant cousin" who says this and also that Forrest Carter does not have a half-Cherokee great uncle. The testimony of the cousin was published in the New York Times, twice. Also, I see that other news organizations have followed the story, such as the Oprah Book Club and Salon.com.

The Salon article for instance relates that Forrest Carter's family pulled up his gravestone years after he was dead to replace it with a gravestone saying Asa Carter. The source of this story seems to be directly the distant cousin. Common sense suggests this did not occur for many reasons.

I find these stories impossible to believe. Is there more evidence than this distant cousin? Is this really true?

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    The New York Times article by Dan Carter, the "distant cousin", indeed doesn't supply any real evidence in the text, but a footnote indicates it was published with photos of Forrest Carter and Asa Carter, suggesting there was at least some resemblance. Unfortunately the photos do not seem to appear in the online version. Apr 23, 2014 at 6:14
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    Other notes: 1. The URL of the Times piece suggests it was published as an opinion piece, not a news article, so it shouldn't be assumed to meet the standard of Times reporting. 2. In his piece, Dan Carter merely says that Asa Carter "may be a distant relation of mine". I didn't see a source for the claim that they actually are related. Dan doesn't mention ever having met Asa in person. Apr 23, 2014 at 6:22
  • Finally: Dan Carter's "testimony" was published in the Times twice? I only saw references to a single piece dated 4 Oct 1991. Apr 23, 2014 at 6:25
  • @NateEldredge I'm getting confused. There's a second NYT's article about this, but its not written by Dan Carter.
    – Razie Mah
    Apr 23, 2014 at 6:35

1 Answer 1

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Salon published an article detailing the timeline, the available evidence and the witnesses - it's pretty clear cut. The headstone story (which in the Q reads like 'some rando ripped out a headstone, and put back another one with a different name, what gives?') makes more sense with the added detail that 'Forrest' Carter was buried on the "Carter family plot at D'Armanville Cemetery near Anniston, Ala.", after dying at his ('Asa's') son's house.

Another rather revealing detail is that an address tied to the publication of one of 'Forrest's' was also tied to 'Asa's' run as governor.

The only squabble I have with the Salon article is that there is either some deception or delusion about the timeline of the revelations going on. The article states:

Even though "Little Tree" was publicly exposed as fraudulent the very year of its publication, most readers simply refused to believe the evidence. This despite the fact that the Asa/Forrest Carter scandal was known far and wide, at least in academia: The distinguished African-American literary critic Henry Louis Gates wrote a widely discussed piece about it, for example.

This, to me reads as 'Henry Louis Gates wrote a piece on it shortly after the publication (1976) of The Education' - I can find no trace of this, though. HLG wrote a piece after the republication in 1991, in which he does not reference any earlier publications by himself on this subject. He instead points to the revelations of "Dan T. Carter, a history professor at Emory University" - though that probably only means the 1991 NYT opinion that came out a month previous

A piece in the NYT in August 1976, before The Education was published, that revealed a possible identity of Asa and Forrest was triggered by the popularity of another work of his, 'The Outlaw Josey Wales', filmed with Clint Eastwood - it is already loaded with pretty damning evidence, including the identity of the addresses (book vs governor-run) and several named witnesses.

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