Bishop Battle inducted into Great Blacks in Wax Museum
BALTIMORE — Bishop George E. Battle, Jr. was among four people inducted into the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum on June 7. The uplifting ceremony that at times felt like a church service and lasted for more than three hours was attended by Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and other dignitaries and emceed by former NAACP President and Congressman Kweisi Mfume.
Battle, 67, Senior Bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and Chairman of the Livingstone College board of trustees, was inducted with The Right Rev. John R. Bryant, Senior Bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, The Rev. Harold A. Carter, Sr., pastor of New Shiloh Baptist Church in Baltimore, and legendary gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. Carter and Jackson were inducted posthumously at this year’s ceremony titled “Uplifted by Faith.”
Not known for being a man of few words, Battle said very little when his wax figure likeness was unveiled at 2:17 p.m. by his wife, Iris Miller Battle, and their children, George E. Battle III and LaChandra Nickole Battle Rapley. It was his first time seeing the likeness, and that moment drove home the reality of being immortalized.
In remarks just minutes after the unveiling, Battle thanked the woman who recommended him for induction, Dr. Barbara Shaw, past international president of the Women’s Home & Overseas Missionary Society of the A.M.E. Zion Church. He also thanked his wife, his children, the Board of Bishops, Janice Jones, his executive administrative assistant, Livingstone College President Dr. Jimmy R. Jenkins, Sr. and his wife Dr. Faleese Moore Jenkins, and the choir from Greater Gethsemane A.M.E. Zion Church in Charlotte, led by director Travis Alexander.
In customary Battle fashion, he was both serious and playful while speaking.
“I couldn’t stand up here without thanking my wife,” Battle said. “I also want to pay homage to our children, George III and LaChandra, for making our lives so complete. You cost us a lot. We will never be rich, but you have so enriched our lives. And the greatest gifts you have given us are Trey, Alex, Peyton and Elias.”
Battle, a 1969 graduate of Livingstone College, didn’t miss the opportunity to laud the institution’s men’s basketball team.
“One important fact that I’d like to say about my school as I get ready to take my seat is that for almost 70 years we’ve been playing in the CIAA and we’d never won the CIAA championship,” Battle said. “But we won it this year, and our men’s team had the highest GPA among all of the men’s teams, so everything is coming to full fruition for me. To look over and see this (figure) that looks like me. What a blessing.”
Battle recited part of Shakespeare’s quote that begins, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances …”
Then he paid homage to his late mother, Mary Battle, who reared him and his seven siblings as a single parent in Rocky Mount.
“What happens between our entrance and our exit?” he asked the crowd inside the Murphy Fine Arts Center at Morgan State University. “I’m heading toward my exit, but I want to thank you for making this day so special in the life of my mom, who’s watching over me right now. I’m not here because men in high places call my name. I’m here because I had a mother that had a 10th grade education but who every night before she went to bed demanded we say our prayers.
“The only thing I wanted to do when I was young was to graduate from high school, but God had another plan for my life,” Battle continued. “I once earned 30 cents an hour picking cotton, and now I lead the greatest church this side of Heaven. That’s what God had in store for me. If you seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, all of these things will be added unto you. I might not be one of the most eloquent speakers you hear, but that doesn’t bother me as long as I can get a prayer through. Even today when my way gets tough my God can see my way clear, and I can still hear momma say ‘God will make a way somehow.’ ”
Instantly Battle transformed the stage to a pulpit and changed the attendees to worshipers. He ended his remarks by thrice asking, “Can I get a witness?” Each time the crowd answered with a resounding yes, and as he exited the stage the crowd stood on its feet.
Located in East Baltimore, The Great Blacks in Wax Museum was started in 1983 by Drs. Elmer P. and Joanne M. Martin. It is located in the 1600 block of North Avenue in a renovated firehouse, a Victorian Mansion and two former apartment dwellings. More than 200,000 people visit the museum annually, from across the United States and other countries, including Africa, England, Japan, Poland and Israel.
The museum has been featured in various newspapers, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The L.A. Times and The Baltimore Sun, in magazines including Essence and Ebony and on CNN, Good Morning America, ABC World News Tonight and CBS Sunday Morning — just to name a few. Expansion plans call for the facility to grow from 15,000 square feet to more than 120,000 square feet of interactive exhibitions.
Joanne Martin said Battle was chosen for induction, in part, because “he’s a dynamic leader, not only in the church but also in the African-American community.”
Last year museum officials embarked upon an education journey with their inductees; this year they went on a spiritual one.
The induction ceremony was so special to Battle, in particular, because of the struggles his family faced during his youth. The second of eight children, he became quite adept at pulling tobacco, picking cotton and planting corn, soybeans and sweet potatoes to help his mother make ends meet.
Battle has come a long way from his days working the farm. 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.
“I’m just a little ‘ole country boy from eastern North Carolina, and I never imagined in a million years I’d have an honor like this bestowed upon me,” Battle said in an interview. “To think that long after I’m gone my children’s grandchildren and their great-grandchildren will be able to walk into the museum and see my likeness and read about me is mind blowing. God did this. It’s nothing but the grace of God that led me to this extremely pivotal moment in my life.”
Before the induction ceremony, a VIP reception was held for the inductees. Jenkins and his wife attended.
“That Bishop Battle is deserving of this very high honor is without question,” Jenkins said. “Throughout his life he has strived to be of service to others in his hometown, in Charlotte, throughout North Carolina, within the A.M.E. Zion Church and certainly at Livingstone College. It has to be pretty exciting to know a wax figure has been created of you for inclusion in a museum that celebrates prominent African-American historical figures. I’m sure he and his family will cherish his induction forever, and my wife and I and the entire Livingstone College family salute him for this wonderful accomplishment.”
The induction ceremony featured music by several choirs or groups, including Serenity, a trio that opened the event with a stunning rendition of “Lift E’vry Voice and Sing,” the New Shiloh Great Choir, which performed a medley of some of Carter’s favorite gospel songs, the Greater Gethsemane A.M.E. Zion Church Concert Choir, which performed “How Great Thou Art” and “City Called Heaven,” and Voices of Empowerment from Empowerment Temple A.M.E. Church, led by Eugene Brown, which performed “Awesome God.”
Dr. Larry D. Melton, a 1972 graduate of Livingstone College who played professional football briefly for the Washington Redskins and is a former trustee at the college, said he can’t think of a more deserving person than Battle for induction into the Great Blacks in Wax Museum. Melton and his wife, Evelyn, are members of Greater Gethsemane where Battle served as pastor before becoming a bishop.
“I can’t wait until Evelyn and I can get to Baltimore to see the likeness of Bishop Battle,” Melton said. “He has meant so much to us through the years, and he’s done so much for so many people. There were a lot of great people symbolized in the museum before Bishop Battle was inducted, including President Barack Obama, Harriet Tubman, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Sojourner Truth, Malcolm X and Bishop James Varick, after whom Livingstone’s auditorium is named. And now there’s Bishop Battle, and he is unequivocally worthy of this honor.”