Mary Inez Lang Booth
1913 - 2010
Inez Booth, first full-time music teacher at Oakwood College, now University, worked there for 43 years, a record in service at one school unequalled by any other music teacher at any Adventist college or university. For 29 years she chaired the department, the longest tenure of any music chair at OU during its more than 100 years.
Booth, born in Mobile, Alabama, on July 23, 1907, the only daughter of Nelson Edward and Eloise Alexander Lang. A year after she was born, her mother died and she and an older brother, Nelson, Jr., were cared for by their maternal grandmother, Mary Shines and great grandmother, Alice Shines.
After her father married Pearl Osborne in 1920, the family moved to Santa Barbara, California, where four more children, Charles, Frances, Claire (Chisholm), and Alfred, were born. Inez attended public schools and graduated from the local high school. She had started piano lessons in her teenage years and while still in high school, accompanied the choir at St. Paul A.M.E. Church.
Although they were Methodists, one of the family's friends, Alice Jones, the only black member in the Santa Barbara Seventh-day Adventist Church, encouraged her parents to send Inez to Pacific Union College. She enrolled in 1933 and majored in music, studying piano under Gilmore McDonald, intent on becoming a music teacher. During her third year at PUC, she joined the Adventist church. After completing a B.A. in music in 1937, she spent two years in San Francisco, staying in the home of the Bethel A.M.E. Methodist minister Runyon White and his wife. She served as organist in their church, taught piano privately, and conducted a community choir.
During her second year of living with the Whites, Inez applied for a teaching position at several schools, including Oakwood Junior College. She received responses from several and invitations to interview. Following her interview for OJC, the president of the college offered her a position. Her friends encouraged her to seriously consider going, observing that "everything grows" and the school would likely do the same.
Although she spent her first year at the college teaching in the elementary school and serving as dean of women, Inez began to teach music classes and direct the choir at OJC at the end of that year, replacing Otis B. Edwards, who had been teaching both music and history.
In her earliest years in the department, she taught and played both piano and organ, the latter being her primary instrument. She completed an M.Mus. degree in organ performance and an M.Mus. Ed. at Columbia University in 1954. She became known for both her fine service playing, serving as organist at the college church for forty years, and her accompanying, doing the latter for numerous choral productions.
Inez met Albert Sidney Booth in the 1940s, while playing for an evangelistic meeting in Mississippi, and married him as World War II ended, in 1945. He then served as official photographer for the college and owned the only black photography studio in nearby Huntsville. They would have two daughters, Iris (Sutton) and Letitia Ann (Boles). When friend and fellow music teacher Alyne Dumas Lee died in 1970, Inez became legal guardian of her two daughters, Angela (Meriweather) and Susan (Baker).
Booth had become chair of the music department in 1950, a position she held until 1967. Four years later, she returned to that position and led the program until her retirement 12 years later, at age 70. In her many years of chairing the department, she was known for her graciousness and ability to nurture young teachers, foster collegiality within the program, and run a united and productive department.
She had a passion for ministering to those who were in prison and each week visited jails in the Huntsville area. The inmates were in awe of her, calling her “Momma” and “Gramma Booth,” and were deeply affected by her care for them and her message of God's forgiveness.
The visits to the jails included singing by OC students who assisted in the program, a sermonette, encouraging words by Booth, prayer, and the handing out of Bibles, literature, and some snack foods. The ministry also included working with families of the incarcerated and intervening when appropriate on behalf of the inmates.
For over 54 years she led out in this work, known as the Oakwood University Jail Band Ministry, which she wrote about in the book Forty Years Behind Bars, published in 1994. When she died, an article in The Huntsville Times praised her for her decades of service to the incarcerated and the community.
In her lifetime Booth received numerous honors, including serving as president of the Alabama Volunteers in Corrections in 1982; being recognized in 1992 by her high school as the first recipient of the George Washington Carver Club Scholarship when she had graduated in the 1930s; and receiving the Message Excellence Award in 1989 (OC Alumni Association), Huntsville City Council Award in 1991, and the Oakwood College J.H. Moran Alumni Honoree in 2001. She also received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the United Christian Artists Association and an honorary doctorate from OC in 2010.
Booth served on the Madison County Sheriff’s Committee, where she was highly respected for her work in the community. She was honored as Deputy Sheriff in 1983 and again in 2003, during her ninetieth year. Huntsville Mayor Loretta Spencer, during a party celebrating her 90th birthday in July, declared the day as “Inez Booth Day.”
The Booths lived near the college following her retirement in 1983 at age seventy. Albert Sidney preceded her in death on May 9, 1987, at age 79. Inez would die twenty-three years later, on August 3, 2010, at age 97.
Sources: Interviews, 1, 16 October 2006; 1940s and 1950s Oakwood College Acorn yearbooks; Social Security Records; Benjamin Baker, "Jesus in Jail: The Ministry of Inez Booth," Black SDA History.org, October 2011,http://blacksdahistory.org., ; Paul Gattis, "Inez Booth made a lifetime out of reaching those in jail," The Huntsville Times, 14 August 2010; Ciro Sepulveda and Lea Hardy, editors, The Ladies of Oakwood, 2003, Oakwood College Press, pgs. 75-77; Malcolm, pg. 8; Obituary for Otis B. Edwards, Southern Tidings, December 9, 1971, pg.27; Years of service as recorded in the Acorn, Oakwood College yearbooks; “Oakwood College News Notes,” The North American Regional Voice, August 1984, pg. 15; “Choral Society, Symphony perform at Oakwood,” Southern Tidings, July 1984, pg. 17; Mary Inez Booth (1913-2010), http://www.blacksdahistory.org; Lucile C. Lacy and Eurydice V. Osterman, “Music at Oakwood,” Adventist Heritage, Vol. 17, No. 1 (1996), pgs. 38-43; Alabama County Marriages, 1805-1967, Mobile, 1905-1912, #377, Nelson Lang and Eloise Alexander, June 21, 1911; “120 faces of Oakwood,” Oakwood Magazine, Spring 2017, pg. 9; (Nelson Lang and Mary Shines) 1920 and 1930 U.S. Federal Census and Social Security Records, Ancestry.com.