People & Events
Determined to "outnigger" the opposition in his 1962 bid for governor, George Wallace turned to the politics of race with a new fiery speechwriter, Asa Carter. Carter, a right-wing radio announcer and founder of his own Ku Klux Klan organization, was a man with a dark, troubling past. "He had a long history of violence, in fact, its not an exaggeration to call him something of a kind of psychopath," says Wallace biographer Dan Carter. Asa Carter had shot two men in a dispute over money just a few years before joining Wallaces campaign, and his Klan group shared his volatile temperament. "In one eighteen-month period," recounts Dan Carter in his George Wallace biography, "his followers joined in the stoning of Autherine Lucy on the University of Alabama campus, assaulted black singer Nat King Cole on a Birmingham stage, beat Birmingham civil rights activist Fred Shuttlesworth and stabbed his wife, and, in what was billed as a warning to potential black trouble-makers, castrated a randomly-chosen, slightly retarded black handyman."
Political observers noted a new punch in Wallaces stump speeches during the 62 campaign, and Carter was credited for the change. "[Asa Carter] was this little quiet guy who always looked like he needed a shave," remembers Alabama journalist Wayne Greenhaw. "He was a hell of a writer. I mean, he knew how to put words together."
With Wallaces victory in 1962, Carter was charged with writing a memorable inaugural speech and he leapt at the chance to make history. "He worked on that thing for two or three weeks," says Dan Carter, "holed up in a hotel room, as one of his friends said, chain-smoking one cigarette after another. And when he got through, he came to see George Wallace. He handed him the speech. And he took his finger and pointed to one line. And he said, 'Read it -- segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever -- that's the line people are gonna remember,' he said."
"And Wallace picked it up," says Alabama journalist Bob Ingram, "and looked at it and said, "I like that line. I like it, and Im going to use it."
Carter proved valuable to Wallaces administration and continued to draw his paycheck during Wallaces first term in office. "Asa Carter was a most integral part of the George Wallace organization," remembers Wallaces former finance director Seymore Trammell. "He was a man that had connections, good connections with the underworld, you might say. He was our go-between between the governor and with the Ku Klux Klan. He could keep those people quiet, or either he could get them to be very disturbed."
Carters speechwriting services reached national audiences again when Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door of the University of Alabama, barring two African American students from entering. All the major networks would carry Wallaces symbolic stand and his statement, "[I] do hereby denounce and forbid this illegal and unwarranted action by the central government."
However, as the times changed and the political climate in Alabama and the nation softened, Carter, ever the hard-liner, became less and less enamored of Wallaces evolving attitude on race. He ran as a fringe candidate for governor against Wallace in 1970 and finished at the bottom of the pack with his racially-charged, divisive campaign.
In a remarkable turnaround, Asa Carter remade his image in his later life, moving to Texas and becoming a writer under the pseudonym Forrest Carter. As Forrest Carter, he had a string of successes including "The Rebel Outlaw: Jose Wales" which became a Hollywood movie starring Clint Eastwood. He also penned the "New York Times" bestseller "The Education of Little Tree," a fictitious account of his childhood as a Native American orphan. Oddly, this "true story" became a favorite among the liberal-minded people he had despised throughout his life. Carter died in 1979 before his double identity reached national attention.