Memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. restored

The memorial’s new name honors Eliot Battle and his late wife, Muriel
Thursday, August 24, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:01 p.m. CST, Tuesday, February 21, 2012



Mary Gaines lays bricks at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on Tuesday, completing years of reconstruction. The memorial, located at the Stadium Boulevard access to the MKT Nature/Fitness trail, will be rededicated in a ceremony Monday. (SARA DEBOLD/Missourian)

National & Columbia milestones in civil rights

  • 1864: John Williams “Blind Boone” Boone is born May 17 in a Union Camp of the 7th Militia at Miami, Mo.
  • 1888: The Excelsior School, formerly Cummings Academy (first school), is renamed Douglass School in honor of Frederick Douglass.
  • 1935: Douglass School is accredited as a four-year high school by the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools.
  • 1960: Columbia Public Schools integrates the district’s high schools. Eliot Battle is the first African-American faculty member in the integrated Columbia Public Schools.
  • 1963: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gives his “I Have a Dream” speech.
  • 1967: All Columbia Public Schools are integrated, and on May 8 the Board of Education votes to close Douglass School.
  • 1968: Dr. King is assassinated on April 4 in Memphis, Tenn.
  • 1969: Arvarh Strickland becomes the first black professor at MU.
  • 1971: Betty McCaskill becomes the first woman elected to the Columbia City Council.
  • 1972: Harold Warren becomes the first black person to serve as a member of the Columbia City Council, representing the First Ward until 1975: William “Bill” McKee is appointed as the first black to serve as housing authority director.
  • 1978: Muriel Battle is the first black person to be appointed as a principal in the Columbia Public Schools and served as the Assistant Superintendent.
  • 1989: Second Ward council representative Mary Anne McColum is elected as the city’s first female mayor and was reelected in 1992.
  • 1991: Columbia appropriates funds to complete the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Garden and begins to celebrate Dr. King’s birthday as an official holiday.
  • 1993: Columbia School Board officially approves renaming Secondary Learning Center as Frederick Douglass High School.
  • 1999: Almeta Crayton is elected to the Columbia City Council, becoming the first black female to serve. She was reelected in 2002 and 2005.
  • 2003: The Columbia Board of Education hires Phyllis Chase as the district’s first black superintendent. Elson Floyd is named the first black president of the UM System.
  • 2005 Mike Anderson becomes the first black head basketball coach at MU.

— Missourian staff


Rededication ceremony

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial at Battle Garden, 800 Stadium Blvd., will be rededicated at 6 p.m. Monday.

Pre-event entertainment: Children’s Choirs from Progressive Missionary Baptist Church and Second Missionary Baptist Church, under the direction of the Rev. Myra Drummond-Lewis and Helen Warren, will provide pre-event entertainment. The program includes:

  • Welcome: Joe Moseley, master of ceremonies
  • Invocation: The Rev. Carolus Taylor, moderator, of Mt. Carmel District Baptist Association
  • Flag procession: Columbia Fire Department Honor Guard
  • National anthem: Kyle Stegali, MU student
  • Black national anthem: Celestine Guyton Hayes, Columbia Public Schools
  • Remarks: Councilman Chris Janku; former Mayor Mary Anne McCollum; MU Professor Emeritus Arvarh Strickland; Mary Ratliff, state president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; Jake Otto, representing U.S. Sen. Christopher “Kit” Bond
  • “Oh Freedom”: The Rev. Myra Drummond-Lewis, associate minister/director of music, Second Missionary Baptist Church
  • Dr. King dramatization: Clyde Ruffin, senior pastor, Second Missionary Baptist Church
  • Closing remarks: Eliot Battle and Susan Stalcup Gray, co-chairs of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Restoration Committee
  • Benediction: The Rev. Jim Bryan, pastor, Missouri United Methodist Church

Source: City of Columbia

Eliot Battle remembers the original dedication of the city’s memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. as exhilarating.

“It was a heart-warming experience,” he said.

 Battle’s first teaching job was at the segregated Douglass School. He later became the first black faculty member in the city’s integrated schools. His late wife, Muriel Battle, was the first black principal in Columbia Public Schools and later served as associate superintendent.

When the community decided to create a memorial in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. in the late 1980s, the Battles contributed to the cause. City government provided $96,990 and the site where the memorial is located.

“Columbia had really stepped up to the plate,” Battle said. “Columbia had the foresight to dedicate something that will last forever.”

It wasn’t long before the memorial began losing its gleam. Water drainage left behind a white crust of salt deposits on the blue tiles lining the steps of the amphitheater. City parks workers cleaned the monument for several years before it was determined that the one-of-a-kind artwork needed serious — and costly — attention.

After years of evaluations and fundraising, restoration of the memorial at the Stadium Boulevard access to the MKT Nature/Fitness Trail is complete. Workers put the finishing touches on this week, laying gray-black granite pieces on the concrete base.

A rededication of the memorial will be held at 6 p.m. Monday, and Battle, co-chair of the restoration committee, will be there. This time, the ceremony will be deeply personal for the 50-year Columbia resident. The memorial will be renamed the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial at Battle Garden.

“The dedication was a beautiful experience the first time,” Battle said. “It’s even more beautiful now. We devoted our lives to Columbia, and Columbia devoted its love to us.”

The rededication falls on the 43rd anniversary of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and the 13th anniversary of the first dedication.

The project includes more than restoring the memorial itself. A pavilion suitable for public events has been built where old sewage digesters once stood. New walkways connect the shelter to the garden and parking lot. An interpretive plague on the history of King’s life and the history of the monument have been added. It is also handicapped accessible.

Restoration costs totaled $209,923, including $98,768 from the Save America’s Treasures Grant from the National Park Service, $66,155 from donations and $45,000 from the city. In addition, a $20,000 endowment has been established for future maintenance.

Monday’s ceremony mirrors much of the original dedication, including remarks by Arvarh Strickland, the first full-time black professor at MU.

“Columbia was an early community that recognized the significance of Dr. King and what the movement meant,” Strickland said. “I could not have visualized, when I came in 1969, an African-American superintendent of Columbia Public Schools.”

Barbara Grygutis of Tucson, Ariz., who designed the monument and made the tiles, said her art is interactive and designed for the community to enjoy. The amphitheater opens up and invites the audience to experience the “heart” of the monument, she said.

The memorial features eight pillars, each bearing an inspirational quote from King. At the base of the amphitheater is a spiral walkway made of 39½ granite pieces to reflect the number of years King was alive.

Clyde Ruffin, senior pastor at Second Missionary Baptist Church and MU theater professor, plans to read an edited version of King’s commencement address on June 6, 1961, at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania.

“The most compelling means to appreciate his vision and genius,” Ruffin said, “is to read his words and immortalize his words.”

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