Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Zeno Ponder, March 22, 1974. Interview A-0326. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Mountain culture prepared Ponder to withstand Republican harassment of voters

Ponder believes his background in mountain culture prepared him to prevent corruption as a Democratic voting registrar. He used armed deputies to keep Republican leaders from monitoring or harassing the Democratic voters.

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

ZENO PONDER:
Well, speaking of the guns . . . you know, I guess us mountain folks take for granted that a man's a man and he covers all the ground he stands on. I took the position as registrar that under the law I was in charge, and I took charge. I asked nobody any quarter. I simply took charge as registrar. We had at that polling place—Marshall school house—not less than 50 Republican deputies. Armed, as they were supposed to be. They had a permit to carry their guns.
BILL FINGER:
Deputies.
ZENO PONDER:
Yeh, deputies . . .
BILL FINGER:
To the Republican sheriff?
ZENO PONDER:
Yeh. They were deputies under J. Hubert Davis and he was running against my brother who was not a sheriff and had no right to carry a gun. And it was not easy, you know, to take charge with bare knuckles so I didn't try it bare knuckles. I tried it with my gun. Because under the law I was in charge, to use whatever force necessary to maintain order.
BILL FINGER:
This is at the voting place, you're talking about.
ZENO PONDER:
Yeh, that's right. And I had a lot of fellow registrars throughout the county who were GIs and knew how to use a gun and had the guts to do it. And they took charge. So when a Republican deputy came in and said "Now I'm going to take the names of the people here who are using markers because we feel there's something going on. You all are buying votes. Accusing us of buying votes. The Democrats. So I'm going to take names." Well, I knew all the time what he was taking names for. Because both bankers were solid Republicans and both bankers would brag that they held enough paper to control any election. Just so they could find out, you know, if that fellow did in fact vote a Democratic ticket. They could foreclose and go get his cow or his horse or demand full payment on the little shack that they had sold him.
BILL FINGER:
And that had happened before?
ZENO PONDER:
That had been happening all the time.
BILL FINGER:
There wasn't a Democratic bank that people could . . .
ZENO PONDER:
No. There was no Democratic bank. There was no Democratic finance. There was no way. If you wanted a loan in Madison county economically, you went through the Republicans. But I was trying to change that.
BILL FINGER:
That's what I'm trying to get at. Why politics was so important to you, to people. I mean that . . . it was because it was their mortgage.
ZENO PONDER:
It was their livelihood.