by Jerome Saintjones
If "Service Is Sovereignty" at Alabama A&M University, then there's one man who has broken all the records on 'The Hill' and who will be recognized for more than six decades of service Friday, February 3, during a retirement program at the Knight Center.
Elias Brown Battle was born to Howard and Rosa Battle in Huntsville, Alabama,
in 1919. He received his public education as one of “the good boys” from Normal Training School, which was located in the vicinity of Terry Hall on the historic Alabama A&M University campus.
Battle recounts his first job at the old Lincoln Mills, a job he secured in the mid- to late 1930s, despite the fact that he had not yet turned 18 years of age. At the landmark textile facility, Battle performed numerous odd jobs, ranging from warehousing to custodial work, for three to four years.
His would also later work under the late Richard D. Morrison, former AAMU president. During this period, Morrison was farm supervisor at the college. By the time that the decade of the 1940s had rolled in, Battle found himself among a group of interested individuals gathered at the old Rison School in search of job opportunities on Redstone Arsenal in the wake of World War II. Battle landed a job in munitions and worked for a few years before securing a job at Alabama A&M.
Battle traces his long affiliation with Alabama A&M to August 15, 1944, when he won the confidence of Mrs. Lula C. Moss, who hired him to work as a dishwasher and “the only male help” in the college cafeteria. Campus grocery was delivered from Ragland Brothers and Halsey Grocery by horse and wagon. The pay was $75 per month, with a perk of two meals a day. He recalls having to serve as a human conveyor belt for an often cantankerous dishwashing machine. Nonetheless, Battle performed the needed service for some 24 years.
Battle remembers the occasional cafeteria visits of AAMU Presidents Drake and Morrison. Most of the time, he says, the two had plates delivered to them. Battle fondly recalls on one occasion in the cafeteria. Feeling industrious, Battle washed an entire wall of the cafeteria. One day President Drake noticed the wall and was very impressed by Battle’s efforts. Later, Battle was summoned to wash the remaining three walls. When President Drake returned again to see the pristine walls, rather than reward Battle with some promise of payment, Drake merely said, “Great. That’ll save me a paint job.”
After Battle had finally been reassigned to cafeteria inventory in 1968 by new food service manager Frank Rose of ARA-Slater, his former dishwashing duties required a crew of four. Battle’s new duties called for checking in delivery trucks, cutting meats (a skill he learned personally from Mr. Prentice, the head cook, initially using knives), grinding beef, and other duties. When AAMU finally acquired a machine to cut meat, Battle was the only one brave enough and skilled enough to use it.
“I liked it all,” says Battle, reflecting back on the 1960s and 1970s. “People were good, and we loved to work together. All you had to do was to just do your job.” Battle also is particularly fond of the years he shared with long-time food service retirees Lirse Jones and Sam Davis. He continued to work in the food service division until the infamous onslaught of tornadoes that assaulted Alabama on April 27, 2011. When things began to settle throughout the Tennessee Valley following the incidents, Battle never got around to returning and thus capped his affiliation with AAMU at nearly 67 years, likely the longest continuing employee in the history of A&M.
The job, the laughter and the hard work at A&M paralleled a family life that includes Cora, his wife of 62 years; two daughters, Geraldine Battle and Helen Townsend; one son, Dudley Battle; four grandchildren; nine great-grandchildren; and one great-great-grandchild.
On March 18, 2012, Battle will observe his 93rd birthday.