In The Steps of Esteban: Tucson's African American Heritage

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Elgie Mike Batteau

Summary of 1988 and 1991 oral histories by Sykes and Gammage; 1996

Elgie Mike Batteau was born in Texas in 1905, the daughter of Sie and Maryanne Bivings Mike. Her mother was a powerful influence in her life, inspiring her to attain educational goals, and to strive to improve opportunities for others. She graduated at the top of her High School class, and attended Paul Quinn College in Texas. She obtained a master's degree in education from the University of Arizona. In 1941, Elgie married Matthew Batteau in Lordsburg, New Mexico. They have one daughter, Flavia R. Batteau, who eventually graduated from Pueblo High School and continued on at the University of Arizona.

Elgie was a outstanding educator, teaching in both the Tucson and Phoenix areas. Her teaching career in the fall of 1934 at Dunbar Jr. High School in Tucson, the only school for Blacks in grades one through nine between 1913 and 1952. Later she taught at Phoenix Union Colored High School and had a lead role in changing that school's name to George Washington Carver High School. She was the first African American to serve on the Pima Community College Governing Board and the board of the Arizona Children's Home.

An Interview with Elgie Batteau
by Annie Sykes; 1988

Mrs. Batteau was interviewed by Annie Sykes, Peer Assistant to the African American History Internship Project. Ms. Sykes also wrote this narrative.

Mrs. Batteau was born in Texas in 1905. She was Elgie Mike when she came to visit Tucson in 1919. She subsequently attended the University of Arizona. In some circles she is thought to be the first Black woman to graduate from the University of Arizona. A native of Texas, she viewed Tucson as a big dusty town upon her arrival here.

In 1934 under the principalship of Mr. Perry, Mrs. Batteau started teaching at Dunbar School. She said: "I went to school District One to apply for a job shortly before I graduated; upon application I was told that the only school that Black teachers could teach at was Dunbar. I was upset because I wanted to be able to teach at any school in the district." Mrs. Batteau was interviewed by C. E. Rose, the then Superintendent of Schools. Mrs. Batteau taught at Dunbar for four years before the more progressive Phoenix area became an attractive place for her.

Mrs. Batteau was also aware of difficulties related to gender during her days at Dunbar. She stated: "Among all of the problems the Blacks had to incur the Black woman had to incur more. A woman teacher could not be married; nor could she live alone. For young Black teachers it was pretty tough."

Mrs. Batteau attempted to have some form of exercise class for the students in the form of Swedish dance. She continued on to the University of Arizona to pursue her Master's degree in the area of Special Education; she received her certificate and became one of the first in the area of special education in the Tucson area.

A tribute was held for Mrs. Batteau a few years ago, and something was said about her from one of her former students, Cressworth Lander. Mrs. Batteau said: "I remember Cress said I was a 'fox.' I thought he meant that I was sly. My unfamiliarity with much slang led me to believe this. After the affair I questioned his statement only to find that he meant I was considered pretty."

Mrs. Batteau has made outstanding contributions to Arizona. It was a pleasure to have this "foxy" lady share some of her experiences with us.

Summary of an Interview with Mrs. Elgie M. Batteau
by Nathan Gammage; 1991

The following interview was held at 4:30 p.m. on May 24, 1991, at Mrs. Batteau's residence in Tucson. This is a fulfillment of my research project for the Arizona Historical Society. Mrs. Batteau was bom January 24, 1905, in Victoria, Texas. She was the only child of Sie Mike and Maryanne Bivings Mike. Mrs. Batteau resided in Texas until 1932, when she came to live in Tucson. Mrs. Batteau first visited Tucson in 1919 with her aunt and had no idea that she would return later to attend school and live in Tucson. Her childhood was very demanding in that her father died when she was 10 years old. Victoria was a small community and most of its residents were farmers. The untimely death of her father caused Mrs. Batteau and her mother to live with her aunt, Mrs. Rose Burns.

Mrs. Batteau attended all-Black schools because of the segregated school system in Texas. She learned at an early age that education was very important to the advancement of Negroes in the United States. Mrs. Mike, Elgie's mother, was unable to obtain a formal education, but her desires were fulfilled by her daughter. This inspired Mrs. Batteau to do her best in school and acquire as much education as possible. Mrs. Batteau stayed in Texas until her aunt moved to Tucson, and she later followed.

Mrs. Batteau graduated from Gross High School at the top of her class. Then she moved to Houston, Texas, and remained there until 1932. The person who influenced her the most was her mother, because she was a "work horse," and because she yearned for an education. While attending high school in Texas, Mrs. Batteau did not want to be outdone by her classmates. One of her friends was enrolled at Perryview, a historically Black college in Texas, for the fall. She wanted to attend Howard University in Washington, D.C. or Fisk University in Tennessee but was unable to do that because of the financial limitations of her family. They could not afford to pay to send her out of state for school. She attended Paul Quinn College in Waco, Texas, an African Methodist church school, which was established in 1881. She finished her graduate work at the University of Arizona where she obtained her master's degree in education.

Mrs. Batteau moved to Tucson in the summer of 1932 and began her quest to educate the African American populace in the Arizona region. While attending the university, she encountered several incidents of racism. She still remembers these encounters today. She attended all-Black schools and taught at all-Black schools; so the biggest difference in her life was the desegregation of the schools in 1952. This had a major impact on the African American community.

The incident that hurt her the most was at summer school during registration. Mrs. Batteau and another student from Fort Huachuca wanted to purchase a soda. The attendant did not want to serve them. They noticed that there were other students who entered after they had and were served. So when the waitress finally came over to take their order, they told her that they wanted a soda. The attendant refused to serve them and then went for the manager. When the manager came over to them, he said that a soda for them would be seventy-five cents, and then it went up to five dollars. Mrs. Batteau said that they would pay for the soda whatever the cost was, and that she would contact the dean about this situation. At that time, one could get a coke for 50 cents at any other place. She asked him for whom he was working, and he replied that he was working for the Alumni Association. Mrs. Batteau was a lifetime member and showed him her card and demanded service. A group of white students also urged her to see the dean. Later that week, she received a notice that the dean wanted to talk to her about the problem.

At the time she enrolled in the university, there were only 2000 students, with about 10 Negro students. Arizona did not have a Black college. Because of the small number of Blacks in the state and those that qualified to attend the university, it did not create a major problem for the community.

The next encounter of racism was when her instructor did not give her a grade over a C because of her color. Mrs. Batteau was told that the instructor would not give her Negro students any grade over a 2. "I was told by one of my instructors that any instructor was not to give any Negro student a l." She also had an English instructor who wrote on her papers that Mrs. Batteau had done the assignment the way that she would have done it. She had the opportunity to tell her that she did not think that much of herself by giving a grade of 3 while in her class. After graduating, she was able to tell her instructor how she felt about the whole situation.

Mrs. Batteau felt that her mother worked hard, cooking, cleaning, and doing other things to pay for her daughter's schooling. Mrs. Batteau thought that it was important for her to do her best in whatever she did with her life because of her mother. Life was not easy during these times, but she was given an opportunity that most African Americans were not able to have.

Mrs. Batteau worked for both the Tucson School District Number One at Dunbar Jr. High School, the only school for Blacks in grades one through nine in Tucson between 1913 and 1952, and Phoenix Union Colored High School, which was later named George Washington Carver High School. She was responsible for the changing of the name of that school. She started teaching in the fall of 1934 at Dunbar Junior High School. Black students were bussed from all over Tucson. They had to attend this school, because the school system was not integrated at that time. Her desire to help the African American youth acquire an education was the driving force behind the determination of this lady. Mrs. Batteau felt that education was the only way that a Negro could survive in society. She was limited to the schools that she could work at because she was Black.

On October 18, 1941, Mrs. Batteau married Matthew Batteau in Lordsburg, New Mexico. They went to New Mexico because they wanted to be married in a church. She was engaged to him for nine years. During this time he was attending school, and she was working in Phoenix. While Mrs. Batteau was teaching, she commuted on weekends to see about her aunt. They began their family at a very late age. This was one of the reasons why she only had one child.

At the age of 41, Mrs. Batteau had her first and only child, Flavia R. Batteau. Her daughter graduated from Pueblo High School and continued on at the University of Arizona also. Mr. and Mrs. Batteau are very proud of her and have no regrets. She is currently working with the National Drug Prevention Program in Washington, D.C. They now have a grandson, a junior in high school, and a granddaughter in college.

"When I first came to Tucson, it was a dust bowl. It did not have the paved streets... and had terrific dust storrns. Tucson looked like a desert, with just a few houses and not that many people or Blacks. Tucson was just an old pueblo. People were sleeping outdoors, on the side-walks and in the yards. They did not have to worry about conditions like they are now."

Mrs. Batteau was one of the first African American women to swim in the University of Arizona's pool. She was admitted to the school, but was excluded from many of the social events. She recalled that Hazel Daniel was the first African American to play on the football team. He was able to break down the color barrier and open doors for many others to play at the university. Nowadays the university has predominantly African American football and basketball teams. These are some of the changes that evolved from the struggles of the pioneers of the African Americans of Tucson. Tucson has changed for the better for all of its residents, and it is important that the African American community voice its ideas in all areas, because there was a time when what the Negro population thought did not matter to the white majority.

Mrs. Batteau does not belong to too many organizations because of her health. She is a member of the African American sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha. She was the first African American to serve on the Pima College Governing Board and the Arizona Children's Home Board.

When Mrs. Batteau retired, she always wanted to read, but because of health problems she was unable to complete her goal. She had two mild strokes and lost her eyesight in one eye and her hearing on the same side. Now she enjoys her days in the company of her husband in the comfort of their home.

The African American experience has been very vital to the development of Tucson, Arizona. America is making remarkable advancements in the area of human rights, and it is important that our society recognize individuals such as Mrs. Batteau.