Bishop Battle receives Livingstone’s President’s Distinguished Alumnus Award
As a young boy, Bishop George E. Battle, Jr. became quite adept at pulling tobacco, picking cotton and planting corn, soybeans and sweet potatoes. Farming was second nature to Battle, the second of eight children born to Mary Battle.
“My teachers all felt like I would make a good farmer or a good mechanic because I was good at both,” Battle said recently in an interview. “I could do anything on a farm including getting the fields ready for harvest and planting, but I didn’t want to do that for a living.”
Battle has come a long way from his days working the farm in his native Rocky Mount. His impressive resume includes founder of an afterschool enrichment program in Charlotte, several years on the State Community College Board, 17 years on the Charlotte Mecklenburg School Board, 12 years on the Central Piedmont Community College Board, active participation with the NAACP and meeting six sitting U.S. presidents.
He’s also the Senior Bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, a proud member of the “One of a Kind” class of 1969 at Livingstone College and Chairman of the Livingstone College Board of Trustees.
On Saturday, Battle and his wife Iris Miller Battle served as grand marshals of Livingstone’s Homecoming parade. Later that day it was announced he would be given the President’s Distinguished Alumnus Award by Dr. Jimmy R. Jenkins, Sr., in part, because he’s the single largest alumnus donor in Livingstone history.
Battle was presented a crystal vase before kickoff of Livingstone’s contest against Fayetteville State University, which the Blue Bears lost in heartbreaking, last-minute fashion 34-31. Even the defeat didn’t lessen the importance of the day to Battle, a man who for so long has done so much for so many.
“Anything we get we don’t deserve. It’s all by God’s grace,” Battle said in an interview. “I’m grateful to Dr. Jenkins and his entire staff who selected me for that award. It was exhilarating and a great feeling to know that God can take what we have and do great things with it.”
Though he’s been honored countless times by businesses and organizations, Battle acknowledges being deeply moved by the distinction. While citing his eastern North Carolina roots, Jenkins said Battle repeatedly demonstrates that love isn’t verbal.
“Bishop Battle has done so much for Livingstone College, and it only made sense for us to honor him in this way at this time,” Jenkins said. “He’s been an exemplary leader as chairman of our Board of Trustees.”
For his part, Battle became emotional during his acceptance speech, which didn’t surprise his wife.
“He’s always filled up when somebody gives back to him,” she explained. “He gives so much to other people but when someone takes the time to think about him he’s humbled. He’s always thinking about Livingstone and wanting the best for Livingstone, and for Livingstone to honor him in this way really means a lot to him. There were times when he was really quiet at home over the weekend, and when I asked him about it he said, ‘I just can’t get over this award.’ ”
The Battles have been married for 43 years. Their son, George E. Battle, III, is the general counsel for the Charlotte Mecklenburg School Board and aspires to fill Rep. Mel Watt’s seat if his nomination for Director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency is accepted. He and his wife Renita have a daughter, Peyton, 7, and a son, Eli, 2.
The Battles also have a daughter, LaChandra Nickole Battle Rapley, a financial analyst for Carolinas Healthcare System. She and her husband, Michael, have two sons, Glynn Paul “Trey” Hubbard, III, 11, and Alexander Richard Hubbard, 8.
Both Battle children were in attendance Saturday as their father was honored, and so was Bishop Richard Thompson, vice chairman of the Livingstone Board of Trustees, who said, “Bishop Battle is a great leader, he’s a great friend and he’s a very faithful brother.”
Larry Melton is a 1972 graduate of Livingstone College and a member of Greater Gethsemane AME Zion Church in Charlotte, where Battle used to pastor.
“I came here to Livingstone as a football player going nowhere fast with holes in my shoes, and Bishop Battle taught me how to give,” Melton said, fighting back tears. “Bishop Battle told me if you give, God will give back to you. Bishop Battle walks among us every day, but he’s a legend. He’s always done his part, and Sister Iris has been right there by his side.”
Battle stands 6 feet 2 inches, though he appears much taller.
The Rev. Dr. Dwayne Walker, pastor of Little Rock AME Zion Church in Charlotte, met Battle through his father, Bishop George W.C. Walker, Sr., former Senior Bishop in the AME Zion Church and former Chairman of the Livingstone Board.
“When I first met him I thought he was the tallest man I’d ever seen,” Walker said. “And after all these years I still think he’s the tallest man I’ve ever seen. At a time when so many leaders fall … we’re blessed to have a leader who loves God, respects his family and has never forgotten from where he came.”
Unabashed about his humble beginnings, Battle tells people his mother, who passed away in 2004, had only a 10th grade education and that he put in endless hours of arduous labor on the farm.
Despite that and people’s opinion that he should become a farmer, Battle earned an associate’s degree at Clinton Junior College in Rock Hill, S.C., a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Livingstone, a Master’s of Divinity degree from Hood Theological Seminary in Salisbury and a Doctor of Ministry degree from Howard University in Washington, D.C.
“My mom got to see me achieve a lot of things,” Battle said. “I was blessed to have received a number of top awards from the City of Charlotte and the State of North Carolina while she was still alive. I wanted to share them all with her and make sure people knew the only reason I received all of those things was because of her, because I had a praying mother.”
State W. Alexander III, executive assistant to the president and director of public relations at Livingstone, has known Battle professionally and personally for a long time.
“His impact in the Charlotte community and at Livingstone College is broad and wide,” Alexander said. “During his years on the Charlotte Mecklenburg School Board he led the city through what had to have been among its most tumultuous times, and he’s worked closely with Dr. Jenkins to ensure Livingstone has what it needs for our students to thrive. As a clergyman his personal and intimate touch with people engenders high regard for his ministry and the AME Zion Church. Simply put, Bishop Battle is a fine, outstanding man.”
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