Unmasking the Klansman

The Double Life of Asa and Forrest Carter

Unmasking the Klansman

The Double Life of Asa and Forrest Carter

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Confederate Ghost Dancer reads like a work of fiction but is a biography of one of the South's most notorious Klansmen. Asa Carter was a racist and anti-Semite from north Alabama who led a KKK group that fire-bombed a Freedom Riders' bus, assaulted voting rights activists, and committed other atrocious acts of racial violence. The details of Klansman Carter's life reveal the carefully planned attempts of white supremacists to derail the civil rights movement and the depraved mindset that led him and others to resist a changing America.

Asa Carter surfaced publicly in 1963 as the ghostwriter of George C. Wallace's infamous inauguration speech which vowed: segregation now, tomorrow, forever; and then he dropped out of sight. Few knew that he had taken up a second life as a screenwriter and novelist. Taking the pen name Forrest Carter, he published two Westerns, including "The Rebel Outlaw: Josey Wales" that Clint Eastwood made into the 1976 hit movie. After the Eastwood film was released, the New York Times revealed that "Forrest Carter" was actually Asa Earl Carter, the segregationist. Another of Carter's books was The Education of Little Tree, which the author fraudulently purported to be an autobiographical tale of an Indian boy and his grandparents.

Dan Carter (no relation to Asa Carter) learned of the fascinating and contradictory threads of Asa Earl Carter's double lives while researching his book on George C. Wallace, The Politics of Rage. Although he was interested in writing about Asa/Forrest Carter, he knew few sources would talk on record. Putting his research on the back burner, he followed the occasional lead in the years to come. In 2019 and 2021 he gained access to a trove of interviews conducted at a time when many of the principals in the story were still alive. Those materials and his original research from the 1990s finally brought Asa Carter's story into focus, and Confederate Ghost Dancer is the result.

Only Dan T. Carter could have unearthed a story so surreal, so essential to our understanding of modern American politics and culture. This book is a triumph.

—Elaina Plott, staff writer, The Atlantic

Dan T. Carter has long stood as one of the most insightful scholars of the modern South. In this beautifully written new book, he turns his talents to his most fascinating subject yet: a man who first made a name for himself as a vocal champion of white supremacy and then, amazingly, reinvented himself as a celebrated literary author and fake Native American. Unmasking the Klansman is a masterful tale well told.

—Kevin M. Kruse, history professor, Princeton University

In this gripping portrait of the perversely fascinating conman Asa Carter, the distinguished historian Dan T. Carter takes us on a journey deep into America's heart of darkness. His subject was a self-appointed defender of aggressive white supremacism in the past but also a harbinger of defensive white supremacism in the present. Written with great insight and conviction, this is both first rate history and an implicit study of the moral landscape in which we still live. Dan T. Carter has made another superb contribution to America's ongoing effort to understand itself.

—Andrew Delbanco, Alexander Hamilton Professor of American Studies, Columbia University

Unmasking the Klansman stands as a brilliant piece of detective work and historical storytelling by one of the masters of the craft. . . . Dan T. Carter has given us not only a life-is-stranger-than-fiction tale from the dark underbelly of racial politics; Unmasking the Klansman also offers a grim perspective on our own time. A superb and unexpected biography from one of America's most gifted historians.

—Frye Gaillard, coauthor of The Southernization of America: A Story of Democracy in the Balance

As might be expected from the brilliant chronicler of the Scottsboro case and biographer of George Wallace, Dan T. Carter has written a compelling and dramatic expose of a conman, violent Klansman, Wallace speechwriter, western novelist, and fictional memoirist. But Carter has written more than a fascinating detective story. He shows us how the violent extremism of the white Christian right has dangerously entered the political mainstream of Donald Trump's America.

—Tony Badger, emeritus Paul Mellon Professor of American History, Cambridge University

If you would have told me that the guy who ghost-wrote one of the most famous endorsements of segregation was the same guy who wrote the book that led to a classic Hollywood western, I wouldn't have believed you. But now comes historian Dan T. Carter's gobsmacking new book, Unmasking the Klansman. The ever-curious professor Carter took nuggets of information squirrelled away over the years and turned them into this rousing and often frightening life story. . . . Carter's scholarship leads to the inexorable conclusion that yesterday's hate and rage are a foundation for the dysfunction in today's politics.

—Andy Brack, editor and publisher, Charleston City Paper

Thoroughly researched and masterfully written, Dan T. Carter’s Unmasking the Klansman is a spellbinding saga that exposes the unbelievable yet true story of a twentieth-century white supremacist, Christian nationalist, and politico. This poignant, sometimes shocking work explores the juxtaposition of Asa/Forrest Carter’s dual identities as both a racist and a person of color, creating an allegory of the threats to democracy the United States faces today. Any serious student of history or political science needs this book on their shelf.

—Cory Vaillancourt, politics editor, Smoky Mountain News

About the Author/Editor

DAN T. CARTER is the University of South Carolina Educational Foundation Professor Emeritus. The author and editor of more than forty scholarly articles and seven books, including Scottsboro: A Tragedy of the American South and The Politics of Rage: George Wallace, The Origins of the New Conservatism and the Transformation of American Politics. Carter has received eight major literary prizes including the Lillian Smith, Bancroft, and Robert Kennedy awards as well as a special citation in nonfiction from the Mystery Writers of America. He lives in Brevard, North Carolina.