Former NASW leader was active in War on Poverty initiative

Mar 11, 2014

By Paul R. Pace, News staff

January marked the 50th anniversary of the “War on Poverty,” declared by President Lyndon Johnson.


The late Mark Battle, who led NASW as executive director from 1984 to 1992, played a pivotal role when federal initiatives to address the needs of the underprivileged were enacted.

Battle was working as a consultant for the U.S. Department of Labor when the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 was passed into law. In his retirement, Battle taught at the University of Maryland. In an undated interview published online by the University of Maryland at Baltimore County School of Social Work, Battle said, “I would say that the Economic Opportunity Act initiative gave everybody the chance to and the right to be employed, or be prepared to undertake their own work.”

The law led to the creation of the Neighborhood Youth Corps, the Job Corps and the New Careers Program. Battle was named the first national director of field operations for the Neighborhood Youth Corps, according to an article published online by the Carol Cole Center for Advanced Living.

Within two years, Johnson appointed Battle as the administrator of the Bureau of Work Training Programs in the Department of Labor, the article says.  In this role, Battle helped promote civil service appointments for professionals of color and women.

“In addition, Mark quietly fought for and succeeded in getting the acceptance of a social work degree as a qualification for two positions by the Civil Service Commission and the Dept. of Labor … ,  Social Science Analyst and Employment Development Specialist,” the article says.

In the University of Maryland interview, Battle said he had fond memories of working in the Department of Labor, pursuing methods that were not status quo at the time and promoting the value of social work.

“It was a hell of a team,” he said, “but I got a lot of satisfaction out of helping explain and interpret what social work was and watch the light bulb go on for those who had no idea what social work was.”

Evelyn Kays-Battle, Battle’s widow and an NASW Social Work Pioneer®, said her husband “believed deeply that government should play a role in addressing social injustices and economic inequality.”

“He was very honored to have a major role in the War on Poverty,” she said, “which gave him a unique and pivotal opportunity to contribute to a broad-based and unparalleled government initiative to address deeply rooted injustices in our society.”

From the March 2014 NASW News. NASW members can read the full story after logging in.

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