Duluth educator Maureen Booth fought for justiceDuluth lost a dedicated champion last week. On Tuesday, Maureen Booth, 81, died surrounded by family, 12 days after checking into Park Nicollet Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park, Minn.
By: Peter Passi, Duluth News Tribune
Duluth lost a dedicated champion last week. On Tuesday, Maureen Booth, 81, died surrounded by family, 12 days after checking into Park Nicollet Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park, Minn.
Edith Hakala became one of Booth’s close companions after the two women met as members of COACT — short for Citizens Organizing and Acting Together.
“She was definitely an activist,” Hakala said of her late friend, calling the retired teacher “an inspiration.”
“She was a very good speaker, and Maureen was always getting involved in different groups,” Hakala said.
But Booth did more than just talk.
“Her spirit and her enthusiasm were matched with action,” Hakala said.
Booth was a member of the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial Committee, which helped the city pay homage to three black men who were the victims of a public mass lynching in downtown Duluth.
Hakala credited Booth for her unflinching resolve, saying: “A lot of people don’t like to bring up that kind of stuff, but it’s part of our heritage and we have to deal with it.”
Duluth School Board member Mary Cameron didn’t see eye to eye with Booth on every issue, such as the district’s ambitious Red Plan, but said: “She was a strong advocate for equity and social justice.”
Cameron recalled Booth’s ability to build bridges.
“Because of the light color of her skin, people often didn’t believe she was black. But maybe as a result, she could sort of walk in two different worlds at will,” Cameron said.
Shelley Bibeau, Booth’s daughter, said her mother had a skin condition called vitiligo, which results in a gradual loss of pigmentation.
“She spent her early years in a brown skin and then turned lighter as she grew older,” Bibeau said. “I think it did allow her to see the world from different points of view.”
Booth grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and earned a bachelor’s degree from New York City’s Queens College. She had two children — a daughter, Shelley, and a son, George.
Bibeau moved to Duluth in 1981, and her mother followed a few years later.
Booth quickly became dedicated to her adopted community.
“Her focus was always on education, but she was also active in politics, and she believed in providing quality housing for the underprivileged,” Bibeau said of her mother.
Booth served on the Duluth Housing and Redevelopment Authority and was elected its secretary in early 2010.
Bibeau considers her mother a personal role model who led by example.
“My mother cared about people. She cared about justice and fairness,” Bibeau said. “Most of all, she believed the biggest fight was the fight against racism and poverty.”
In 1996, Booth participated in a march to protest alleged racism and misconduct by police.
Booth served as an organizer for Duluth’s Central Hillside neighborhood council in the late 1980s and early ’90s. She also served as president of the Damiano Center Board and helped develop the city’s human rights ordinance.
Booth dabbled in Duluth politics, as well, unsuccessfully running for City Council in 1995 and for School Board in 2009.
But Charlie Bell, a Duluth businessman and former mayoral candidate, said Booth remained an influential figure in the community.
“She was someone who stepped forth and spoke out. Maureen certainly wasn’t a wallflower. She could talk to anyone. A person’s position never intimidated her, because she was such a strong and knowledgeable character,” he said.
St. Louis County Commissioner Steve O’Neil first got to know Booth as an activist for COACT.
“She really understood the whole notion of building power by organizing people,” he said. “Maureen was a good connector. She brought people together.”
Bibeau, who lives in Brooklyn Park, Minn., said her mother moved to Minneapolis a little over a year ago to be closer to family. She lived there with her son, George. But Bibeau said her mother considered Duluth her true home until the very end.
Bibeau said her family is planning to hold a memorial service for her mother in Duluth later this summer.
In lieu of flowers or other gifts, the family has requested memorials be made in Booth’s name to the UNCF scholarship program for minority education.
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