NEW YORK — 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 former Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace: "Segregation now. Segregation tomorrow. Segregation forever."
Forrest Carter, the author, was really Asa (Ace) Carter, an 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," Prof. 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.
He 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 members of the American Booksellers Assn. 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 television.
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, Tex., 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' nonfiction paperback best seller list for the last 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."
Forrest Carter wrote several other books, including a novel that was made into the film "The Outlaw Josey Wales."
Prof. Carter, who said he may be a distant cousin of Asa Carter, said he plans to present evidence that Forrest was Asa in an upcoming book or article. He said he learned of the author's second life when working on a biography of Wallace.
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."