The man who shot Asa Carter
About six years ago Bob Adams stumbled upon the year-old Birmingham History Center and presented curator Marvin Whiting with bundles of unsorted personal memorabilia accumulated during his 44-year career as a Birmingham News photographer. At age 84, Adams donated boxes of news clippings and photos in an effort, he said, to “clear out” his Hoover home.
At least, that’s what we know from curator’s notes written in Adams’ file. Adams passed away in 2009 and Marvin died last November.
But that’s not all that remains. Included in those boxes of tear sheets and curled photos is the unmarked news photograph pictured here.
It was uncovered only a few weeks ago during the cataloging process — admittedly backlogged–and remained a mystery until Google and a few telephone calls shed some rays of light on the subject photograph: An apparent courthouse assault on the Anniston-born firebrand segregationist Asa Carter in 1957.
For any further identification, we’ll turn to readers who might have something to offer. Please reply below.
Here’s what we think we know: According to a News employee who researched Carter for a film documentary, Carter was attacked at the courthouse in 1957 upon being acquitted of shooting (but only wounding) two members of his own Klan group at the Central Park Theater in Midfield. That’s him in the lower left, lit cigarette in his mouth. No negatives are available at the newspaper, and on second thought, the researcher said, it could easily have been taken after Carter’s Klan people beat up Nat King Cole, in 1956.
Another source says it was a courthouse scuffle in 1957 following Carter’s arrest. At least two accounts say Carter shot the men over money; the Encyclopedia of Alabama says the charges were later dropped (the shooter–robed in the unique gray-hooded garb that marked Carter’s Klan–was not identifiable).
The Adams image also ran, with no observable credit, in a 1992 Texas Monthly story by Dana Rubin, one of many writers publishing after Carter was exposed for penning the fraudulent story, The Education of Little Tree, under the name Forrest Carter, and assuming the identity of a Cherokee man whose memoirs of his orphaned boyhood provided the narrative.
Biographical accounts of Carter’s life–even credible ones–conflict on dates and details, but all agree Carter was a talented, multi-faceted, and ruthless segregationist and anti-Semite.
On the other side of the lens,photographer Robert Adams led quite a different life. Adams was a Wilton native who started his career as a copy boy at The News in 1941 and was shortly promoted to photographer.
He was transferred to manager of the color department in the mid-1960s, and for a while shot all the paper’s color work. His skills earned him the admiration of surviving colleagues Tom Self, 78, and Ed Jones, 84, both of Birmingham.
“Robert was a nice guy,” Self said. “He was what I called a true Southern gentleman. He took care of his job and treated people fine and didn’t let his looks hold him back.”
Adams’ “looks” were in fact disfiguring burns from an accident suffered at age 8 or 9. Dressed as Santa Claus at a childhood Christmas party, Adams’ costume caught fire when he backed into a candlelit Christmas tree. He suffered third degree burns and lost two fingers from each of his hands.
As an adult, Adams had some function restored through several procedures by Tuscaloosa surgeons, Jones said. He and his wife Trudy adopted three brothers from the United Methodist Children’s Home, in Selma, and had one son of their own. Despite his injuries, he was a skilled carpenter as well as photographer, and practically built his first family home on Darlington Street in Hoover.
Adams never misrepresented himself. The only case of fraud linked to him was being mistaken for the Adamsville-born Medal of Honor recipient Red Irwin, who was also severely burned in the process of safely jettisoning a detonated phosphorus bomb in an aircraft over Koriyama Japan during World War II.
“People called him ‘Red’ all the time,” Jones said. “They’d say, ‘Hi, Red,’ and it got to where it was just easier to say ‘Hi’ back than to explain.”
Adams retired in 1985 and died in 2009 at age 88. Neither Self nor Jones could specifically identify the picture he left behind, but weren’t surprised he kept it.
Like most photographers of that era, he made several attempts at printing each picture before having a copy good enough to file, Self said. In Adams’ case, a discarded print might get thrown into his locker to take home. “Robert had kept some of his pictures that he liked and thought had historical significance,” he said. “Robert was always one to save pictures. I shot a ton of stuff, but I never did keep any of it.”