To left: A more honest cover, brought to you by terrible photoshopping.
I remember leafing through a copy of The Education of Little Tree
at a friend's home many years ago. The book had been published in Korea under the title 내 영혼이 따뜻했던 날들 (The Days when My Soul Was Warm
), and was a bestseller here as it was in the U.S. I read through a bit where the protagonist's grandfather taught him that predators hunt the old, weak and sick leaving the strong ones to breed. So evidently natural selection was a part of Cherokees spirituality? How nice. I put the book back and didn't give it much thought.
I was reminded of this brief exposure when I read The Real Education of Little Tree
, about the life and career of author Asa "Ace" Carter. Carter worked as a speechwriter for George Wallace, who would go on to become the infamous segregationist governor of Alabama. A staunch segregationist himself, Carter formed a white citizens council (these were widely seen as respectable segregationist alternatives to the Klan) and his signature appears on the articles of incorporation of the Original Ku Klux Klan of the Confederacy, though he denied Klan membership. Even fellow segregationists considered him too radical and sinister in his open calls for violence, however. Wallace never hired him directly but instead paid him through intermediaries, and the white citizens council eventually drove him out. Yes, Carter was too virulently racist for George Wallace
.( It only gets better from there )
Asa Carter's views are not irrelevant or incidental to Little Tree.
Rather, his violent racism is central to the entire work. Carter might have been a con man and a bastard, but he was one smart con man and bastard: He knew what was required to hold up the system of white supremacy, and he knew its logic. He knew that mainstream white society would not seek out or listen to the actual Cherokees who would realize in an instant that the book was bunk.
Above all, like any successful author (or con man) Carter knew what his audience wanted to hear, and that a book that condescends to and erases American Indians to score cheap emotional points was exactly right for the public's palate. He got that right, so much so that people still defend
this book decades after the hoax was revealed. Is it any wonder, when the book reflects so much of what America is?