Mary Inez Booth (1913-2010)

Mary Inez Lang Booth was born in Mobile, Alabama, on July 26, 1913, to Nelson E. and Eloise Lang.  Inez was one year old when her mother passed away.  She and her older brother, Nelson, Jr., were reared by their grandmother, Mary Shines, and great-grandmother, Alice Shines, until their father Nelson, Sr., remarried.  Nelson and his wife Pearl relocated to Santa Barbara, California; Inez and Nelson, Jr. soon joined them.  Later, the family grew with the birth of Charles, Frances, Alfred and Claire.

Inez finished her early education at Lincoln Elementary School, and LaCumbre Junior High School. While she was an adolescent, Inez began taking piano lessons, doing so well that she accompanied the choir at the St. Paul A M.E. Church.  During her senior year at Santa Barbara High School, Inez’ parents were encouraged (by the only Black member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Santa Barbara) to send her to Pacific Union College (PUC) in Angwin, California.  At PUC, she met several lifelong friends including Carl Dent, Eunice Willis and Garland Millet.  Inez accepted the Seventh-day Adventist message and was baptized during her third year of college.  She completed her Bachelor of Arts degree in Music at PUC in 1937.  Following graduation, she resided with Rev. and Mrs. Runyan in San Francisco, where she played the pipe organ for the Bethel A.M.E. Church for two years.  In 1939, she accepted a position at Oakwood Junior College in the Music Department. Almost everyone who attended the Oakwood College Church for the next 40 years remembers Sister Booth as the church organist, in all of the various locations where church services were held.

During the summer of 1945, Elder  Emmanuel Wilkins invited her to play for an evangelistic tent meeting  in Laurel, Mississippi.  Elder Wilkins’ daughter Ruth introduced Inez to a charming young man, with whom she later fell in love.  Inez was joined in marriage to her beloved husband Albert Sidney Booth in the mid-1940s.  Albert was the official photographer at Oakwood Junior College, and operated the only Black-owned photography studio in downtown Huntsville, Alabama.  They later became the proud parents of Iris and Letetia.

Mrs. Booth taught and played both piano and organ, but the organ was her primary instrument.  She attended Columbia University in New York City, where she received the Masters of Music and Music Education Arts degree in 1954, with the organ as her performance area.

Mrs. Booth returned to Oakwood as Chairman of the Music Department.  Oakwood’s Aeolians, organized in 1946 by her friend Dr. Eva B. Dykes, received her special attention and support while she was department chair.  Mrs. Booth served on the music faculty as a teacher and advisor for 44 years, until her retirement in 1983.  She was known for her graciousness, her sense of humor, and her ability to nurture young musicians, teachers and pastors.

With a great love for those who were just a little less fortunate than she was, Mrs. Booth did all she could to help others in the community.  Years later, her example inspired her friend Dr. Anthony Paul, who founded the National Association for the Prevention of Starvation (NAPS).  She is fondly remembered by scores of Oakwood students for leading the Oakwood University Church Jail Band Ministry for over 54 years.  She continued her jail band ministry as often as her health permitted in later years.  With the help of her daughter Iris, Mrs. Booth could be seen visiting the Madison County Jail on Sabbath afternoons, using a walker or in a wheelchair.

She also served on the Madison County Sheriffs Committee, and always appreciated how the sheriffs, judges and other officials on the parole board treated her with great respect at all times. Mrs. Booth was made honorary Deputy Sheriff in 1983 by then Sheriff Joe Patterson, and again in 2003 by Sheriff Blake Dorning.  Her book Forty Years Behind Bars chronicled her dedicated years of service with the jail band ministry.  At her 90th birthday party in July of 2003, “Inez Booth Day” was proclaimed by then Huntsville Mayor Loretta Spencer.

Mrs. Booth loved her family.  When her daughters Iris and Letetia married, she called their husbands John and Gary her “sons.”  When her friend Alyne Dumas Lee, an internationally renowned vocalist and (at the time) artist in residence at Oakwood, passed away in 1970, Mrs. Booth became legal guardian of Mrs. Lee’s daughters, Angela and Susan.  She also held close to her heart her siblings Claire Chisholm and Alfred Lang, as well as three siblings who preceded her in death:  Nelson Lang, Jr., Frances Bynum, and Dr. Charles Lang.

Mrs. Booth received numerous awards over the years, for her musical talents, her lifelong contribution to arts, and for her community service.  In 1992, she was an honored alumna of the Santa Barbara High School.  Most recently, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the United Christian Artists Association, and an honorary doctorate from Oakwood University, during the presidency of Dr. Delbert Baker.

Left to cherish the memory of Dr. Mary Inez Lang Booth are:  her daughters Iris Sutton (John) and Letetia Boles (Gary); daughters by guardianship Angela Meriweather (Michael) and Susan Baker (Delbert);  grandchildren Brandie, John and Brionna Sutton; Parris, India, Gary and Asia Boles; Tara Edwards; Mario and Reuben Meriweather; Ayesha Meriweather Reynolds (Zachery); David (Denise), Benjamin and Jonathan Baker; her sister Claire Lang Chisholm; her brother Alfred Lang; her ‘play son’ Dale Baxter (Sheila); cousins, a host of nieces and nephews, great nieces and nephews, great-great nieces and nephews, students, church members, public officials and friends.