The Rev. George Battle Jr., the senior bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, got a chance to “come home once more” Friday, standing before the faculty, staff, alumni and students of Clinton College.
As the featured speaker at the college’s 120th Founders’ Day Celebration, Battle promised not to tell his story as, he said, it has been told too many times before.
Instead of telling his story, Battle used his life as a sermon, his voice steadily rising in pitch and fervor and the audience responding equally, then louder with “Yes” and “Amen.”
As Battle neared his conclusion – with the audience standing and clapping – he proudly and loudly proclaimed, “I am Clinton Junior College.
“I am somebody.
“I am somebody that was made by Clinton Junior College, sanctified by Clinton College.”
It was at Clinton that the foundation for his success was laid, he said.
Battle came to Rock Hill from the tobacco fields of Rocky Mount, N.C., where he was earning 30 to 60 cents an hour sharecropping tobacco.
Clinton’s president at the time, Sally B. Moreland, helped Battle come to the Rock Hill campus. There, Battle washed dishes, washed walls, even drove Moreland around when she collected day-old bread to make sure her students were fed.
In 1966, Moreland asked Battle to deliver the students’ welcome at the Founders’ Day Celebration. In September of that year, Battle gave his first “trial” sermon.
He came to Clinton wanting to be a lawyer. “God had something else planned,” he said.
Battle graduated Clinton with an associate degree, earned a bachelor’s degree from Livingstone College in Salisbury, N.C., a master’s degree in divinity from Hood Theological Seminary in Salisbury and a doctorate of ministry at Howard University, Washington, D.C.
He has been a pastor at numerous AME Zion churches and was elected a bishop in 1992. He presently is the prelate for the Piedmont Episcopal District which includes North Carolina, Jamaica and West Angola.
On Friday, he borrowed a theme from William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” challenging the college’s students “To be, or not to be.”
His advice to the students included:
• “Work won’t kill you. ... Don’t knock a job until you try it.”
• “There will be hard knocks. Get up, dust yourself off. ... what a mighty God we serve.”
• “We have a responsibility to create and be creative.” Part of that creativity is studying, possibly finding a theory that Einstein did not discover or devising a new historical theory.
The mission of Clinton and its students, he said, is to determine “where you are and where you want to go. You ought to decide what you want to be.”
The Founders’ Day program celebrates the college’s fundraising from its staff, faculty and various districts of the AME Zion church.
Battle helped lead the fundraising, announcing a $10,000 gift to the university. Clinton supporters raised more than $106,000 for the college on Friday.