(Senate - June 25, 2013)

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[Page S5146]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []


 Mrs. McCASKILL. Mr. President, I wish to offer tribute to a 
truly passionate team from Columbia, MO--Eliot and Muriel Battle--who 
together became key to forever changing race relations throughout 
  One local newspaper recently wrote: ``You could not have Eliot 
without Muriel. What they accomplished, they accomplished together.'' 
And what they accomplished was astounding--a testament to the power of 
leadership by example.
  Over the last decade, the city of Columbia and the University of 
Missouri have lauded this couple with various citywide recognitions 
and, for Eliot, an honorary degree, in honor of their lifelong efforts. 
Yet the most poignant recognition of all was the decision to name 
Columbia's newest high school ``Muriel Williams Battle High School.'' 
Education served as the backbone of the couple's series of first-ever 
accomplishments as they became pioneers in the desegregation of the 
city's public schools.
  Seeing the new high school open became one of Eliot's last goals. And 
he met it with pride. Despite his declining health, he walked to the 
podium on June 2 to a standing ovation, spoke loud and clear, and 
received a second standing ovation at the end of his speech honoring 
his wife, who had passed 10 years earlier, in 2003. Nine days after the 
ceremony, he passed on too.
  It is amazing how life works sometimes. Their story is one for all to 
know and understand. I would like to share a few highlights.
  They moved to Columbia in 1956 in the heart of the civil rights 
movement, just a year after Rosa Parks would not give up her seat on 
the bus. In this era, many civil rights leaders had more radical 
approaches to change, but the Battles did not fit into these molds. 
Even though they also wanted quick change, they were a couple who lived 
``quietly yet determined and unwavering,'' as one newspaper columnist 
noted, working behind the scenes of social justice and modeling the 
racial acceptance they wanted their community to adopt.
  Both of the couple's first education jobs in Columbia were at 
Douglass School--Eliot as an assistant principal and, later, Muriel as 
a social studies teacher. Both had come from families that emphasized 
``education was the answer'' for African Americans, Muriel once said. 
``We grew up,'' she said, ``knowing we were going to college.'' It 
became clear quickly that both Eliot and Muriel wanted all Columbia 
children to have the same chance they did.
  In 1960, Eliot became the first African-American faculty member at a 
newly integrated Hickman High School, serving as a guidance counselor. 
His approachable manner helped ease the tension of desegregation by 
mediating between some African-American families and White educators.
  After Muriel's stint at Douglass School, she spent 30 years at West 
Junior High School, where she worked as a teacher, department 
chairperson, assistant principal, and principal. She retired as the 
school district's first female associate superintendent of secondary 
  Muriel was known for making all people of all ages and race feel 
valued and welcome even down to her school motto: ``We're glad you're 
  Long into their retirement from education, the couple continued their 
efforts to promote diversity. Eliot became a founding member of the 
Minority Men's Network, served on the Columbia College board of 
Trustees, and wrote the 1997 book: ``A Letter to Young Black Men.''
  Muriel formed the Battle Group, an education consulting firm that 
provided strategies to school districts, parent-teacher associations, 
and juvenile justice facilities, and dedicated time and money to 
building a Martin Luther King, Jr., memorial.
  Their efforts toward overall community acceptance reached far beyond 
their professional lives. Two of their four children became the first 
African-American students to attend Grant Elementary--the first of 
Columbia's schools to be integrated.
  They also integrated neighborhoods, being one of the first African-
American families to move beyond the redlining real estate limits in 
Columbia and into a White neighborhood. Despite the hateful letters 
they received--and even after having a White neighbor shoot their 
family dog, Bingo--the couple led by example and continued to tell 
their children that these neighbors feared change and they had to push 
  As one local newspaper recounted, Battle's daughter said her father 
would routinely say ``They don't understand, and they are afraid. We 
have to live our lives and do the best we can, and if they knew better, 
they would do better.''
  The community of Columbia was so lucky to have had this team move 
into its community and change it forever.
  I ask my colleagues to join me in honoring the lives and 
accomplishments of Eliot and Muriel Battle.