Remembering My Roots: A Black History Month Feature

Photo of Leigh Battle in Garden Setting

About Sandra Jones

I am so proud to have been featured by Sandra Jones in her 2022 Black History Month series on Facebook, and I wanted to share my story here for you.


Introduction from Sandra

Each year in October the Mid Atlantic Episcopal District of the AME Zion Church holds a Leadership Conference in a different city. Each Pastor, Minister, Church Officers and laity are required to attend. Our Presiding Bishop encourages us to never stop learning so that we can continue to sharpen our leadership skills. It was one such conference that we attended that was held in Richmond, Virginia several years ago. Richmond is home to a lot of our former classmates, family and friends and believe me they never forget their humble beginnings.

My friend Carolyn Smith and I had touched base with Ethel Lee (Leigh) Battle – a friend from home who attended Bland Elementary and High School and graduated in 1967 from Appalachia High School. We informed her that we would be in Richmond for a few days and would like to visit. When growing up in this area, Ethel lived on the famous Southern Yard, attended Macedonia Baptist Church on Oak Street and was raised an only child by her beloved mother- Mrs. Rosa Lee. Ethel gave Carolyn and I a grand tour of her city including her Saint Paul Baptist Church where the pastor is Dr. Lance Watson.

We got to visit her real estate business and her loft … and we left that weekend with a renewed sense of pride for Ethel and her accomplishments and for all of those who passed this way and have never forgotten about this area. I pray that you enjoy reading her story.

“If you grew up in the foothills of coal country in Southwest Virginia nestled in a hollow in the mountainside, success may have been daunting.

Anyone who is living on the downside of advantage and relying purely on courage … anything is possible.” – Russell Crowe

Remembering My Roots, by Leigh Battle

Courage is a gift from God, and I thank Him for giving me a double dose. But as with any gift, it must be nourished. My mother was the bravest and strongest person I knew, along with the school teachers, Sunday school teachers, the community, and the church. We were taught to stand for something, believe in yourself, display integrity, practice loyalty, and be committed to courage and character over comfort.

On March 1, 1970, I arrived in Richmond. I recall getting off the Greyhound bus, looking out on Broad Street and declaring that “this is going to be my town.” My first job was with C&P Telephone and after an 18-year career, I stepped out on faith and opened my real estate firm, Regal Realty & Associates. My benchmark of courage was, “If Douglas Wilder could become the first black governor in the US, surely I could have my own real estate firm.”

As Regal Realty grew, so did my imagination. I used my gift of visualization and with courage, hard work, and commitment, I decided that my company needed a home. I found a building on Broad Street that was very close to the area where years earlier, I had declared that Richmond would be my town. The building reeked of deteriorated creaky floors, with ceilings caving in and a tree growing inside from a huge caved in floor. However, that did not deter me. Armed with a belief in self, commitment, courage, and skills that I had been taught as a child in that small coal mining town in Southwest Virginia, I went to work. The result ended in a 5,000 square foot building. My company was located on the first floor with 22 agents and 3 staff personnel, and there were two penthouse apartments on the second floor, one of which I lived in.

 As I look back on my life, I see that double dose of courage comes with a price. Giving back your time, your talent, and your tithes are equal partners with courage. This year, I celebrate 15 years serving as a Deacon at Saint Paul Baptist Church. In 2017, I established the Stephen Ministry there, which commissioned 29 Stephen ministers. That ministry was born out of a God wink, which some refer to as a coincidence. I met a homeless man attending church on Easter Sunday in 2012. My assignment, unbeknownst to me at the time, was to take him home, get him a shower, clean clothes, and to hear his story. He was a working man who was legally blind and had been robbed of everything before ending up on the streets. But, that act of kindness that God instilled in me gave me the courage to take him home and through God’s infinite power, I was able to help him get his footing, his identification, his social security, a place to live, and clothes on his back. He was grateful and for me it was finding another way to minister. A Stephen minister is one who helps another person by listening and walking beside them until they become whole again. I know my purpose is to help people.

I recently accepted a volunteer position with the AARP Speakers Bureau. It is designed to lead virtual and in person meetings relevant to senior citizens.

As an African American woman in America today, I say it is time. It is time to stand up and be accountable for people – time to do something, say something, and be something. As women of color, we must respect and honor each other. I recall an incident that I was able to honor some women. I lost my last living relative in 2003. My Aunt Mary was like a mother to me. After her death, I had the awesome responsibility of getting her house in Ohio cleaned out. It was a daunting task, so I asked five of my friends to travel to Ohio and help me organize the house. They did and as a gift to honor them for their commitment, I took them on a 3-day trip to the Bahamas. It was my way of saying thank you.

As Black people, our history is so rich with possibilities. Our heritage as perceived to be poor Blacks in Southwest Virginia does not define us. We are a resilient people with hope and clarity for the next generation. As an entrepreneur, business owner and a child of God, my prayer is that my extension, my family, will continue the legacy.

To my two children, Trevor, Brandi; my eight grandchildren Nagee, Trael, Lil Trevor, London, Shamon, Breon, Kyle, and Bailey. I love you.

Ethel Lee  Battle



Reverend Sandra L. Jones is pastor of Williams Chapel AME Zion Church in Big Stone Gap, Virginia. In May 2022, she celebrated her 25th year in the ministry and as pastor of her home church. For 20 years of her ministry she was a circuit minister of three churches- one in Kentucky and two in Virginia. In addition to the ministry, she worked full time The University of Virginia’s College at Wise in Wise, Virginia (the sister institution of UVA in Charlottesville, Virginia) and retired in 2015 after 22 years of service. At UVAWISE, she was the Assistant to the Vice Chancellor of Development, Chair of the College’s Black History Month Committee and advisor to the MCA (Multi Cultural). She currently lives in Big Stone Gap, Virginia and is the mother of 2, has 1 great granddaughter and 1 great great grandson. She loves to write stories to honor her hometown families and friends.

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