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 >>

Hopes for continuing strength of character in southern politicians

Ponder hopes that southern politics will continue to be dominated by people with party loyalty and a commitment to work hard on elections. He criticizes the Nixon administration for extreme selfishness.

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

BILL FINGER:
You know what you've done is just . . . you've moved from where . . . your motivation and how you described it in the thirties, when you were in high school. Then you've talked about your motivation in 48 when you felt like something was wrong and you brought these GIs along and your brother pushed you into that 1950 election. And now you are a powerful man in this county and your motivation is not only one of wanting to change things but its a sense of responsibility for that power that you have. So, maybe this will be my last question. The reality of Zeno Ponder in Madison county and the way you've discussed it today is more than that in the rest of state. It's become a myth. You read . . . you know, somebody down in Raleigh will say "That's the way Zeno Ponder does it in Madison county" or that's . . . You read Manly Wade Wellman's Kingdom of Madison and Zeno Ponder's . . .
ZENO PONDER:
You know, I never met Wellman . . .
BILL FINGER:
You never met him?
ZENO PONDER:
No. I look forward to it. (when I) come to Chapel Hill I want to meet him. I think he did a real good job. He may have flattered me, I don't know. I certainly think he did a great job in his book.
BILL FINGER:
But I think, and I'm sure you're aware of this, that your impact—although you're not, you didn't become a state senator and then a state, you didn't become a Dan Moore. You didn't try for a state wide office.
ZENO PONDER:
I'm glad I didn't. (laughter)
BILL FINGER:
I am too. (laughter) But your impact on a state wide level . . . I think it's there in the way that a myth has been created. And I think myth can be productive or destructive, depending on how accurately people perceive that myth.
ZENO PONDER:
Well, Bill, I feel very strongly that in the South—and maybe throughout the nation, I hope—we will continue to have in both major parties a sense of loyalty in that a party machine, a party organization, contrary to the idea that is carried through the media, really consists of success being spelt w-o-r-k. If you work hard enough and if you've dedicated yourself to a task, then you'll get that job done. Now if you're dedicated to the proposition of making Jim Hunt the governor of North Carolina then you're talking about so much money that will absolutely be required to get him, get the image out there on television time, radio and billboards and postage. But you're talking about millions of hours of work. And it has to start in the minds of one or two or three or four or five people. A small group. They have to do considerable thinking, planning and selecting, choosing friends and getting the right people in the right counties and in blazing this trail on down the road. And then finally you end up on election day with 100,000 people working their heart out for 10-15-20 hours. Dedicated to the proposition of carrying out an idea that was conceived back there 2-4-5-6 years ago. So my idea is that our two party system, in my honest opinion, will survive in America not on patronage but on dedicated men and women who really and honestly conceive of our freedoms as being the best possible way to govern ourselves. And therefore they are willing to put the time and the effort, on both sides, both Democrat and Republican. Jackson's idea of patronage was fine at the time. But as they say at Watergate, at this time, this point in time, you testify. It would have been different at that point of time prior or subsequent to. Jackson's patronage—yeh, you could almost control elections. And, you know, our federal government decided that in fact they were just going to have to get around to a lot of civil service or the incumbent would have too big an advantage. Well, I don't think that's true any more. I don't think that you will ever again see in America, with our two hundred million plus people . . . don't think you'll see elections controlled by jobs. Think you'll see them controlled by either selfish or unselfish, dedicated people. And quite frankly our system in Washington today, Mr Nixon's administration—he was elected and he was elected in a landslide, but it was the most damn selfish crew that's ever organized this country. This plumber crowd. Watergate crowd.
BILL FINGER:
Lot of Republicans would probably agree with you.