Ready for the challenge

Published 12:42 pm Thursday, December 7, 2017

POWELLSVILLE – James Peele says he is ‘propelled by challenge’.

He will face another one upcoming when the retired former Bertie County Agricultural agent with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service accepts the reins as mayor of the Bertie County hamlet of Powellsville.

“Powellsville has afforded me the opportunity to raise my family among family and friends,” Peele said. “I’ve gained acquaintances here that have afforded me opportunities.  I used to hear, ‘I’m not, I’m not’, but I wanted to prove to people that I could.”

Though he was raised in Union, in Hertford County, Peele crossed the county line to work and live in Powellsville 45 years ago after finishing North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro and later studying in Raleigh at N.C. State. 

James Peele is joined by his wife, Linda, as he is sworn in on Tuesday as Powellville’s first-ever black Mayor.

Eight years ago he made his first foray into local politics when he ran for and won a seat on the Powellsville Town Council.  Appointed interim mayor when then-mayor Thomas Asbell was asked by Council to resign in the summer of 2016, Peele ran unopposed for the top post in November and won with over 93 percent of the vote.

“I’m slightly nervous,” he admitted. “I’ve held positions before but I haven’t been ‘it’ necessarily.”

Peele also seems to downplay the significance of his race as having an impact on his vision for the community.

“It depends on how you look at it,” he acknowledges. “I consider the economics of the whole system. These small towns are no different, when we suffer, someone has to take the reins and try to revive the situation.  No one wants something that’s depressed, you want something that’s flourishing, and we’re not getting that. I’m anxious about making a positive difference, showing some growth and giving a re-birth to what we’re experiencing right now.”

Tuesday, surrounded by a host of family, friends, and church members from First Baptist Powellsville, Peele took the oath of office as part of the town’s new administration beginning in 2018.  This group also includes two new Council members in Hattie Outlaw Askew and Gerald Waters joining incumbent Carlyle Hoggard.

“We’ve got resources in place that can serve us well,” he noted. “The foundation is here. Look at the school (the former C.G. White, now under private ownership), there are some things that can be re-worked or re-done, but we have any number of sites here that could lend themselves to developing any sort of enterprise.”

With the Powellsville Red Apple Market located at US-13/NC 42 North as the town’s only retail grocery, Peele says he hopes to attract a retail outlet of some sort to the municipality.

“We need industry of some sort,” he maintained. “An agricultural community dies when agriculture becomes more mechanized. These advances take the labor out of what was once the livelihood of a community.

“I want the town to be revived,” he declared. “I want to instill in citizens working values as well as the value of work, cosmetically and aesthetically. I want to reach for every resource that’s available to me; funds to give us the financial boost we need and to help repair some of the infrastructure that’s necessary for the revitalization of the town itself.”

Peele speaks sometimes as if he might aspire to higher office beyond the mayor’s chair. But he quickly shoots down the notion of that idea.

“I’m experiencing birthdays,” he notes with a chuckle. “I think somewhere along the way I can be a better pusher than a puller.  I don’t know where it might go, but it’s certainly not in my immediate plans.”