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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Zeno Ponder, March 22, 1974. Interview A-0326. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Political involvement begins by representing soldiers to the Madison County government

Ponder first became involved in politics by discussing issues with soldiers that he taught. He represented their views to local political leaders as a way to improve Madison County.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Zeno Ponder, March 22, 1974. Interview A-0326. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

I started to tell you there what really got me, I think, motivated to get into politics. These thousand GIs being taught by some 20-25 teachers. I was one of the 20-25. All over the county. All over Madison county.
BILL FINGER:
A thousand GIs in this county!
ZENO PONDER:
A thousand GIs from this county. I was maybe not the loudest mouth, but I was one of the one who didn't hesitate to express myself when we'd have our teachers' meetings. And we'd get together say maybe four times a year. And those of us who were teaching the GIs would get together and express ourselves and discuss different policies and tactics and skills that we were using and field trips, equipment, etc. in dealing with the farm situation here in Madison county. Well, I guess I became a leader of those teachers, those 20-25 teachers. And those 20-25 teachers were scattered throughout the county. They would talk in terms of well, what Zeno Ponder's doing in his class. We would have field days, county-wide field days. And I did have the opportunity to go before all these GIs and express myself on certain points. I learned and I sensed maybe a consensus of the group was "Well, yes. We've been out of Madison county. We have seen what's going on in the rest of the world. We've been in boot camp in Louisiana, or South Carolina, or Tennessee or Texas. We like Madison county but we got some changes we want to make." I could sense this thing and I became a part of it. I become their mouthpiece. And Democratic or Republican, it was incidental. Really, it was incidental whether I was a Democrat or they were Republicans.
BILL FINGER:
Were you a Democrat at that point?
ZENO PONDER:
I was a Democrat at that point. My father registered as a Democrat and I naturally registered as a Democrat. That's something that's just handed down, you know. You don't go contrary unless there's a real good reason at the age of 21. So when I reached the age of 21 I registered as a Democrat.
BILL FINGER:
But that wasn't an important decision.
ZENO PONDER:
No (it wasn't) an important decision. And I had more Republican friends than I did Democrats because there were more Republicans in Madison county. But I did become a spokesman or a mouthpiece, expressing the desires and wishes of these young men who had seen change and who wanted change to occur here in Madison county.
BILL FINGER:
Why do you think that was, that you were the spokesman? Was it because you had been to college and, you know, had some training? Were you articulate?
ZENO PONDER:
I would say that you have described it very well. I had more formal training than the average by far here in Madison county. I don't think that I had any particular skills or abilities that many of the others would not have had had they had the same formal training. I think perhaps I did inherit a pretty strong will, a pretty strong drive. I guess my daddy made a point with me early in life. He told me the only reason the postage stamp delivered a letter was because it stuck to it. And if you believe in something, damn it, just stick to it. Don't give up. And . . .
BILL FINGER:
You weren't sure then what you were sticking to. You just had a sense that they wanted some change . . .
ZENO PONDER:
Right. Wanted some change. And some of the changes I knew we had to bring about or I felt we had to bring about in order to ever get Madison in step with Raleigh. To me it made good sense that if you wanted something from Raleigh you need to be in tune with Raleigh.