In 1979, one afternoon, while reading an article in our local newspaper concerning the upcoming school election, I shared with my wife my opinion relative to the candidates that had announced their candidacy. My wife sarcastically said to me, “well if you think you can do a better job, why don’t you run?” My response was, “I believe I will.” I immediately jumped into my car and hurriedly made my way to the county courthouse 5 miles away to secure a petition and signatures of eligible voters that had to be completed before 4:30 p.m., as this was the last day for filing. Upon receiving the form, I made my way to the only grocery store in town, secured the necessary signatures from people in the store, and returned to the courthouse just before closingtime.
Being a novice in politics, I proceeded to do what I had seen in past elections, namely, have cards printed and pass them out to people that I met. One particular day, I decided to go to the businesses on main street and pass out cards to the business owners and any other persons that might be there. As I moved up the street, I came to the office of a school board member who was a business man, and there in his office was the chairman of the Democratic Party and the editor of the newspaper. Someone had alerted them that I was coming up the street and so there they were to greet this political novice. After discussing my candidacy, this group told me not to worry about passing out any more cards. They would take care of everything from here on in. All I needed to do was to campaign in my community and go to another city in the county that made up the school district and tell this gentleman that they sent me to talk with him about my candidacy.
At first, I thought that they were trying to trick me, actually. I was skeptical, but then I drove to that city and introduced myself. After talking for a few minutes about the needs of the school district, the gentleman asked me, “who are your folks?” I told him who my grandfather was, and when I did, he let out the loudest laugh and said, “we used to haul logs together, I’ll take care of your campaign in this area.” I was literally shocked and almost in disbelief. A 29 year old black man receiving an endorsement from a man I had never met before, but because he knew my grandfather, he gave me his support.
Well these gentlemen kept their word and on election night I was able to defeat the incumbent President of the board as well as the newcomer by a margin of 16 votes, and become the first person of African Descent to be elected to public office in that county.
At the conclusion of my first term of office, I was re-elected for a second term without any opposition, the first time that had happened in 20 years. People can work together to make a difference.
Dr. Chester Thompson
Senior Pastor, Zion Hill Baptist Church, Camden
Presiding Bishop, Agape Fellowship
Resides in Camden