Forrest Carter was born Asa Earl Carter. He grew up on his family’s farm near Oxford, Ala., just south of Anniston. After high school, Carter enlisted in the US Navy and was trained at the University of Colorado to be a radioman, serving in the Pacific Theater of World War II. After his discharge, Carter worked as a radio announcer in Denver until 1952, when he returned to Alabama. He worked in Birmingham as the radio spokesman for the American States Rights Association, until he was fired for offending local Jewish leaders during National Brotherhood Week. With a friend, Carter published a segregationist magazine, The Southerner. He also started a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan whose members conducted the kidnapping, beating, and castration of Edward Aaron in 1957. In 1962, Carter began working as a speechwriter for George C. Wallace during his first run for governor. Wallace’s 1963 inaugural speech, best remembered for the line “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” was written by Carter. By 1970, however, Carter was impatient with Wallace’s “liberal” views and ran for governor himself, finishing last. In 1972, he sold his farm and disappeared from public life.
Carter reappeared in 1973, calling himself Bedford Forrest Carter and claiming to be a half-Cherokee cowboy who had been born in Tennessee. His book, The Rebel Outlaw, Josey Wales, was published privately in 1973 and republished by Delacorte as Gone to Texas later that same year. The actor Clint Eastwood directed and starred in the movie version, The Outlaw Josey Wales, which was released in 1976. A mid-1970s television interview led some Alabamians to connect Forrest Carter the novelist with Asa Earl Carter the politician, a connection Carter himself denied. In 1976, Carter published two more novels, The Education of Little Tree (which he claimed was autobiographical) and a Josey Wales sequel. Both were filmed after Carter’s death. The former was released in 1997, while the latter was released in 1986 as The Return of Josey Wales. His last novel was a Western about the Apache leader Geronimo. Carter died in Abilene, Texas, while visiting one of his sons.
Forrest Carter wrote three novels about the American West and one novel about an Appalachian child learning Cherokee folk wisdom from his grandparents. The latter book, The Education of Little Tree, was published as autobiography but was later shown to be fiction.
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Photo courtesy of the Birmingham Public Library Archives, Asa Earl Carter Publications, File No. 1265.1.2.
Last updated on May 30, 2008.