People & Events
During the 1958 Alabama governor's race, Seymore Trammell, the state's attorney in George Wallace's judicial circuit, maintained a public face of neutrality. Behind the scenes, however, Trammell helped supporters of Attorney General John Patterson produce flyers accusing Wallace of being soft on race.
After Wallace lost the election in a landslide, he consulted with Trammell about running a race-based campaign in the 1962 gubernatorial election. For the next ten years, Trammell -- himself a hard-line segregationist -- would aid and abet Wallace's racist political strategy. He was one of Wallace's most trusted aides until ego and corruption drove them apart.
Like Wallace, Seymore Trammell grew up in Alabama's Barbour County. The Trammells were the only white tenant farmers on a 5,000-acre plantation. The family was very poor; Seymore and his six brothers and sisters were needed to work in the fields and attended school sporadically.
At age 17, Trammell joined the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal program, in which he learned telegraphy. Later he joined the Army, serving for three years. On the basis of courses Trammell had taken in the military, he was admitted to the University of Alabama and finished the pre-law and law programs in three years.
Trammell's trips into black communities in Tuscaloosa and Birmingham provoked comment among other students at the university, who thought he might be involved in something shady. In fact, he was helping to support himself by managing a popular gospel group, the Harmony Jubilee Quartet. Trammell had always been entrepreneurial, and by the time he became district attorney in 1952, he was financially well-off from real estate investments.
Financing Wallace's many campaigns was an expensive proposition. However, once Wallace became governor, he had a steady source of "donations" -- kickbacks from state contracts, collected by Trammell, who had become Finance Director. Trammell was also willing to use his own assets to help the Wallace "cause." On one occasion during the 1964 Presidential primaries, Trammell loaned Wallace's campaign $20,000 to buy television air time.
After the 1968 presidential campaign, Trammell and Wallace parted ways unamicably, possibly because of opposing views on campaign tactics. (Trammell felt the campaign should have spent every available dollar on advertising in states where Wallace was running close to Nixon, but Wallace decided to save the money for a future campaign.) The former aide also hoped to have his own career in politics. When Trammell ran for state treasurer in 1970, Wallace announced that he would "not even vote for Trammell, much less lend him his support"; Trammell did not get into the general election.
At President Nixon's urging, the Justice Department had begun investigating Wallace and his associates. Nixon did not want Wallace to make another third-party bid for the presidency in 1972, and evidence of corruption would give him leverage against Wallace. Trammell had passed information about corruption in the Wallace administration to a Montgomery newspaper editor. He agreed to meet with Justice Department officials in 1970, but in the end refused to implicate Wallace and other members of the administration. The depressed and alcohol-dependent Trammell implicated himself in his conversations with Justice Department officials, however, and was soon facing charges of tax evasion. The Justice Department never felt it had enough evidence to bring a case against Wallace or his brother, Gerald, another subject of the investigation. Other Wallace supporters were indicted, but only Trammell was convicted. He served four years in a federal prison.