SAREPTA, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Women have always played active political roles but have not always been welcomed to the office with open arms. Serapta’s Mayor, Peggy Adkins, shares the story behind her road to the mayor’s office and encourages more women to do the same.

The concept of women becoming mayors in Louisiana is relatively new. The first female mayor in the state was Lula Coleman, appointed to run Jena by the governor in 1920. Shreveport elected a woman to the position 50 years later, in 1990, and New Orleans would not elect a woman to the most powerful seat until 2018.

Adkins is not Sarepta’s first female mayor. She’s the second. Pam Dorsey shattered the glass ceiling when she was elected in 1993.

The Adkins family has been a part of the Sarepta community for many generations.

One of Katie’s jonquils, blooming in early March of 2023. Image by Jaclyn Tripp, KTAL

It’s an early March morning, and “Mrs. Peggy,” as many of her former students still call her, stares at a time-withered persimmon tree in a field where her parent’s Tee and Katie Carraway’s home stood.

Hometown gal to mayor

Leading such a small town can be both a blessing and a curse depending on one’s perspective. In a place where everybody knows your name, everybody knows your name.

The reputations of individuals and families can either open doors or slam them shut, and few last names in Sarepta have a reputation that has reached as far as Adkins’.

Becoming mayor was not Adkins’ lifelong dream her hard work, character, and the respectable Adkins name all lent themselves to her success.

Mayoral platform built on generations of history, legacy, and hometown love

When Adkins’ mother Katie was six years old, the family left Mississippi and moved to Cotton Valley, Louisiana.

Jim Thompson and Alice Williams Thompson, Katie’s parents. Image provided by Mrs. Peggy Adkins.

Just three years before Katie graduated, women gained the right to vote. By the time she reached her twenties, Katie was an educated woman in the working class, and she was still unmarried. She worked at a store, and a boarding house, and sat with older people when she could.

Financial freedom for women in this era was nothing like it is today. The nation was still fifty years away from allowing women to have credit in their names, but on the plus side, women were beginning to wear makeup and could wear skirts that showed their legs and arms.

Adkins said her parents met her dad Jentry Tee Carraway saw Katie walking with her brazen look and short hair, it’s said that Tee thought Katie was some kinda good-looking. It was not long before the two were engaged.

This page from Mrs. Peggy’s scrapbook shows her father’s family from Shongaloo, La. Her father, Jentry Tee, is on the front row, second from the left. He is a small child in the photograph.

“Momma and daddy got married on Jan. 25, 1928,” Adkins said. “These are the kids Erma Lee, J.W., and John. Momma and daddy had to take the three kids on their honeymoon. They were daddy’s kids.”

Tee was awarded custody of his children after divorcing his first wife, and Katie was immediately swept into the role of mother of three. The couple also had six children together – Murriel, Helen, Shirley, Peggy, Quinnie, and Ben.

Tee worked in the oilfield like many men of the time, but he wanted to own a business.

His dream came true when he opened Carraway Feed Store.

“He had vegetables, canned goods, candy, Cokes, and on one side of the store was an old undertaker’s building with caskets in it,” Atkins said. “I remember going in there and it was kinda scary.”

Atkins said the old caskets were there when her daddy bought the store.

Carraway Feed Store in Sarepta, La., owned by Tee and Katie Caraway. Image courtesy of Mrs. Peggy Adkins.

“I guess the undertaker had gone kaput or something,” she said with a laugh.

Adkins said she has no idea what eventually happened to the caskets in the store.

Adkins says her dad was a lot of fun, but she also confesses that he griped a lot.

Jentry Tee Carraway, standing on the front porch of his feedstore in Sarepta, La. He was highly respected by many of those in the town of Sarepta. Image courtesy of Mrs. Peggy Adkins.

“Momma couldn’t run the store just right,” Adkins said with a laugh and an eye roll. “Momma went down every evening with him to the store, and she just didn’t ever do anything right. Whenever Tracy was a baby, she still worked at the store, and she carried Tracy down there, and he’d take a nap on the feed sacks.”

Adkins said she encouraged her mom to stop working in the store to end Tee Caraway’s griping.

“I said momma, just quit. Let daddy handle it by himself.”

Adkins said her daddy griped so, “momma finally did. She just quit.”

Change can be good

Sarepta has changed much in the past few decades. The school that educated generations became North Webster Junior High. Members of the Adkins family recorded video of the original brick schoolhouse before it was demolished. The wood-frame house where Adkins grew up was moved to Shongaloo. And the little town that was always run by the menfolk had to get used to a woman in charge.

“I never dreamed I would be here,” Adkins says. “After I retired from (Sarepta High School), I went to work in the computer lab and helped kids get their GEDs. I did that for about 10 years, then went to work at the library. I was there for about three years, and in November of 2013, E. L. died.”

Mrs. Peggy Adkins sits in her office at City Hall in Sarepta, where an old nameplate from her desk at Sarepta High School reminds former students of days gone by. Image by KTAL staff

E. L. Edwards was Sarepta’s mayor until he passed away unexpectedly. And because Adkins was mayor pro tem, she was automatically placed in Edwards’ position.

“I served about six months, and when it came time for somebody to run for mayor I waited until the last day and went to Minden (the Parish seat) to ask what they were going to do if nobody ran. They said they would appoint somebody to be mayor,” Adkins said. “So I asked who they would appoint.”

Adkins was told that she would be the appointee.

“So I put my name on the ballot,” she said.

Adkins ran unopposed rather than accepting an appointment and she quickly learned firsthand that being mayor isn’t easy. Some people seemed to go out of their way to make the job more challenging, according to Adkins.

“They fought me at first,” she said. “I walked out one night crying, and I said if you want this job you can have it. Why didn’t you run for it?”

But nobody else wanted the job; once Adkins had that epiphany, she told others to quit telling her how to do it.

“I think women bring a good perspective to the office of mayor,” she said. “Because they’re much more sensitive and look at things different.”

And the way Adkins looks at things is different. She believes it is essential for leadership in a small town to be from that small town so that they can understand the town’s needs.

Meant to be

Katie Carraway touched a lot of hearts and is remembered long after she died in 1990. And her daughter, who grew up to teach at Sarepta High School, is still busy trying to keep the town running–much like her parents once kept a little homestead running even after such things went out of style as the world progressed into a new era.

Would a flower on a road by any other name smell as sweet? Perhaps not to those who knew Katie. Image by Jaclyn Tripp, KTAL

There are still countless family heirlooms in the old feedsack quilts throughout Webster Parish that undoubtedly got their very beginnings in Tee’s store. And there are still a few people around Sarepta who can vividly remember Carraway Feed, too.

Adkins says when the building where her daddy had the old store was torn down, she was only able to salvage a single board. But she is grateful to have the photos, the happy memories, and the legacy. And though her parents’ house has been moved, every spring the bulbs her momma planted pop up and bloom just in front of where Adkins’ childhood home once stood on a once nameless road that now has a street sign.

Who you are is as important as where you are from, when seeking an office in a small town.

Adkins is now 80 years old and has been Sarepta’s mayor for almost a decade. But she says she never meant to become a politician.

When asked where she gets her strength Adkins said she must have gotten some of it from her mother. And she is happy to pass along a little of that encouragement to others, too.

“You ought to consider being mayor,” she advises people, particularly women, who care about their hometowns. “Because we need somebody.”