Saturday, November 23, 2002

Speeches, letters honor Rev. Booth


He was pastor of Zion Baptist for 32 years

By Rebecca Billman
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo] The Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth reads a prayer during services for the Rev. L. Venchael Booth on Friday at Zion Baptist Church in Avondale.
(Tony Jones photo)
| ZOOM |
For nearly four hours Friday, friends, family members, colleagues and dignitaries from around the country spoke of their admiration and affection for the Rev. L. Venchael Booth.

They all agreed that the Rev. Mr. Booth profoundly affected them as few had.

And the people in the pews at Zion Baptist Church in Avondale concurred. It was an emotional, yet jubilant, sendoff to a man who accomplished great things.

Their feelings were summed up nicely in a letter by Hope Taft, wife of Gov. Robert Taft.

"His passing brings an end to an era and a giant of a man," Mrs. Taft wrote.

Rev. Mr. Booth
Rev. Mr. Booth
The Rev. Mr. Booth died Nov. 16 in Memphis, Tenn. He was pastor of Zion Baptist for 32 years before founding the Olivet Baptist Church in Silverton in 1984.

Friday, tears were shed when the choirs of both churches blended their voices to sing God's praises in honor of their beloved pastor. And Diann McMillian's stirring solo brought some to their feet.

The Rev. Mr. Booth was also founder of the Progressive National Baptist Convention in 1961 and served a term as its president. He also founded the National Prayer League and the Marva Collins Preparatory School.

He was a founding board member of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change and the first African-American to serve on the board of trustees of the University of Cincinnati.

As pastor of Zion Baptist, he did what no other pastor before him had done; he began an extensive social outreach and sponsored construction of several housing complexes. Although the congregation was mostly poor, he set high financial goals and with hard work and faith in God, attained them.

Throughout the '50s, '60s and '70s, he worked to improve housing, education and income levels for African-Americans in his congregations, in his community and across the country.

People came to the church Friday to pay tribute from as far away as Oklahoma City. Many who couldn't attend sent letters or proxies.

Among those attending the service were: Cincinnati Mayor Charles Luken; the Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth, civil rights activist and pastor of Greater New Light Baptist Church; Robert "Chip" Harrod, executive director of the National Conference of Community and Justice; the Rev. M.L. Jemison, president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention; the Rev. Walter L. Fauntroy, president of the National Black Leadership Roundtable, and many whom the Rev. Mr. Booth pastored or mentored.

Letters from Ohio Gov. Bob Taft and his wife were read, as well as one from Coretta Scott King, widow of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

"Rev. Booth was a loyal and strong supporter of Martin," and had made many contributions to the King Center, Mrs. King wrote.

After mentioning the many contributions that the Rev. Mr. Booth made in the communities he served, the governor wrote: "Rev. Booth has left behind a remarkable legacy to Cincinnati, Ohio and the nation."

Carl H. Lindner Jr., chairman of the American Financial Corp., couldn't attend because of illness, but in a letter he said the Rev. Mr. Booth was a treasured friend, a wise man and a trusted adviser.

"We were both born with little and we both had lofty goals," Mr. Lindner wrote. "He was determined to make a difference. He was just plain smart."

The service was presided over by the Rev. Damon Lynch Jr., pastor of New Jerusalem Baptist Church, and several members of the Booth family read scriptures or excerpts from condolence letters.

"My grandfather would want us to remember him as a man of God - a man who was called to serve," said his grandson, Paul M. Booth Jr., son of Cincinnati Councilman Paul Booth Sr. "Your labor, Granddaddy, was not in vain. I love you, Granddaddy."

The Rev. Mr. Shuttlesworth led the people in a prayer that included a plea for peace in the city.

"Thank you for his (the Rev. Mr. Booth's) works that he did on this earth as he traveled to heaven," said the Rev. Mr. Shuttlesworth. "Help us understand that all men are brothers. Give peace, love and understanding to the city he loved."

E-mail rbillman@enquirer.com




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