How a white supremacist fooled most everyone

December 7, 2018

It’s odd behavior, I know, but this is the time of year I think of speechwriters who are hard at work.

Politicians are preparing to take office in January, and they like to make speeches. This means they need somebody to write them. Somebody who can explain big ideas or complex problems in a few sentences.

Even John F. Kennedy had speechwriters, and he won a Pulitzer Prize for authoring Profiles in Courage. It’s a fine book about senators with spines of steel. It also carries the unmistakable style not of Kennedy, but of Ted Sorensen, his trusted aide and most skilled speechwriter.

Profiles in Courage stands as a literary landmark to Kennedy’s ambition. If he was smooth enough to talk Sorensen into ghost-writing a book for him, and then shrewd enough to fool the Pulitzer committee, he knew he had a future beyond the Senate.

Sorensen was talented and formidable, but he’s not the most versatile speechwriter in history.

Nobody could outdo Asa “Ace” Carter. His name doesn’t mean much in the Southwest anymore.

This is because old Ace went by the name Forrest Carter when he wrote The Education of Little Tree, a book he deceitfully peddled as nonfiction. Little Tree tells of an orphan raised by his Cherokee grandparents in Depression-era Tennessee.

Originally published by Delacorte Press, the book became a surprise hit after the University of New Mexico Press reissued it. Little Tree topped The New York Times’ bestseller list for nonfiction in 1991.

Ace Carter, who died in 1979, must have gotten a good laugh at how he reinvented himself with a new name, a softer writing style and a concocted character called Little Tree.

Ace knew he needed a different identity to succeed as a mainstream author. You see, in the 1950s, he was a white supremacist in his native Alabama.

School desegregation was the meanest issue in the Deep South. Ace, like most Klansmen, opposed it.

Politicians in that region embraced segregation based on simple arithmetic. White officeholders controlled voter registration rolls. They denied black people the right to vote on arbitrary grounds, such as intelligence tests.

It was still that way in 1962 when Democrat George Wallace was elected governor of Alabama. Ace Carter became a speechwriter for Wallace. And Ace’s writing received worldwide attention when Wallace delivered his inauguration address on a cold January day in Montgomery.

“In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny. And I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” Wallace intoned.

The last sentence was the one people remembered. Wallace, with words supplied by Carter, had placed himself on the wrong side of history.

Wallace would revise his stand on segregation as the years rolled by, especially after a mad gunman paralyzed him in 1972 when Wallace was running for president.

Ace Carter moved to Texas and became Forrest Carter. In addition to Little Tree, he wrote other books, including The Rebel Outlaw: Josey Wales. Clint Eastwood starred as Josey when the novel became a movie.

Today, the best political speeches are models of tight writing. The authors have a fetish for declarative sentences.

Ace Carter and George Wallace came from a different time. They were verbose.

In the inauguration speech that Carter wrote, Wallace said. “Today I have stood, where once Jefferson Davis stood, and took an oath to my people. It is very appropriate then that from this cradle of the Confederacy, this very heart of the great Anglo-Saxon Southland, that today we sound the drum for freedom as have our generations of forebears before us done, time and again through history.”

As it turned out, Ace was a better novelist than a speechwriter. He disguised his bigotry in the world of make-believe and made a buck doing it.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-986-3080.

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