Influential Columbia educator dies at 88

Eliot Battle, an influential educator for Columbia Public Schools, died at the age of 88 on June 11.

His death came after he sustained injuries in a single-car accident on June 7 near the corner of Rollins and East Lake Roads.

Battle leaves behind two daughters and a son.

Battle is best known for helping to end segregation in the Columbia Public School district, a process he started when he took the job of principal at Douglass High School in 1956. He then became the first black faculty member at Hickman High School in 1960.

Jim Ritter, former superintendent of Columbia Public Schools and friend of Battle, said Battle always remained positive in his efforts to break down racial barriers. Ritter and Battle worked together in Columbia Public Schools for the entirety of their respective careers, Ritter said.

“(Battle) always exerted a positive attitude about everything he did,” Ritter said.

Everyone close to Battle felt his positive attitude. His daughter, Donna Battle Pierce, said her parents encouraged her and her siblings to break down racial barriers at the schools they attended as well.

“He encouraged us to join every club or group (at school) that had never had black members,” Pierce said in an email. “When people hurt our feelings or left us out of things, he reminded us that they were the ones who were missing out.”

She added that her father would always listen to his children’s concerns and respond with encouraging statements.

Battle worked in Columbia Public Schools for 40 years before retiring in 1991. During his career as a guidance counselor and administrator, Battle established the Continuing Education Center Program at Douglass High School in 1967.

Pierce said her father continued the teaching atmosphere at home as well. He and his wife helped their children get involved with music and put the daughters in ballet. He constantly helped with homework and studying for tests.

Pierce, now a writer, said he helped her until he died.

“Dad was still my best line editor when he passed away,” she said. “I used to send all my columns and stories to him for the last check. He was a master at grammar and spelling.”

After his retirement, Battle published a book titled “A Letter to Young Black Men” in 1997.

His wife, Muriel, served as a faculty member for the school district as well, eventually becoming the associate superintendent of secondary education. Columbia’s newest school, Muriel Williams Battle High School, was dedicated in her honor on June 2. Eliot Battle spoke at the dedication ceremony.

Pierce said she was disappointed when the school couldn’t be named for both of her parents who had worked as a great team, but said her father was happy in dedicating it to her mother. She said Battle took pride in all the people he had helped and he said he didn’t need a school named after him to prove it.

“He always said his greatest rewards were the small conversations from people he had helped,” Pierce said. “He was truly the wind beneath everyone’s wings.”

Battle was a person one could go to with any problem and he would listen, Ritter said.

“He was the kind of friend everyone wants to have in a lifetime,” he said.

Battle received an honorary doctorate from MU in 2009. In 2012, MU Extension previewed a documentary about his role in the desegregation of Columbia schools called “Battle: Change from within.”

Services for Battle will be held June 24 at Columbia’s Missouri United Methodist Church.

~To see on The Maneater‘s website, click here.~

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