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Havre de Grace’s Camay Murphy receives state honor for ‘leadership and service’ during Black History Month

Havre de Grace resident Camay Murphy, front row, second from right, is with her fellow Senator Verda Freeman Welcome Legacy Award recipients Tuesday, as well as Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, who is next to Murphy, to her right. Murphy and the other recipients were in Annapolis Tuesday to accept the awards for their community leadership and service during Black History Month.
Havre de Grace resident Camay Murphy, front row, second from right, is with her fellow Senator Verda Freeman Welcome Legacy Award recipients Tuesday, as well as Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, who is next to Murphy, to her right. Murphy and the other recipients were in Annapolis Tuesday to accept the awards for their community leadership and service during Black History Month.(Office of Lieutenant Governor / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Havre de Grace resident Camay Murphy, as well as a number of community supporters, has been working for the past several years to erect a statue honoring Negro Leagues baseball player and U.S. Marine Ernest Burke in the city, an effort she was recently recognized for at the state level.

“He was a very community-minded person, so we’re really proud to be able to place his likeness and [honor] the contributions that he made right here in Havre de Grace,” Murphy said of Burke, who was born in Havre de Grace.

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Murphy, 93, and representatives of nine other organizations from across Maryland, traveled to Annapolis last week to be recognized for their community service with the Senator Verda Freeman Welcome Legacy Award in honor of Black History Month.

“Some of the projects were quite interesting,” Murphy said Wednesday of her fellow recipients, recalling initiatives such as helping people traumatized by violence, mentoring young men, assisting low-income families.

“They were all very worthy [of recognition],” Murphy said.

The award ceremony happened Feb. 18 and was led by Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford. Murphy was honored for her efforts to coordinate fundraising and construction for a statue in Havre de Grace to memorialize Burke. She is chair of the Committee for Ernest Burke Statue, part of the nonprofit Community Projects of Havre de Grace.

“The Ernest Burke story is one of a young person who pulled himself up by his bootstraps and was a great patriot, as well as a great ball player,” Murphy said.

Burke served in the Pacific during World War II in a military that was segregated for African-Americans. He played baseball in the Marine Corps and began playing professionally after the war.

He was scouted by the Negro Leagues’ Baltimore Elite Giants and was a pitcher and outfielder during his four seasons with that team. He played another three seasons in the Canadian Provincial League, according to his obituary in The Baltimore Sun.

Burke then spent the next 30 years working as a heavy equipment operator with the Baltimore-area Henry J. Knott Construction Co. until his retirement in the early 1980s. He spent his retirement working as a tennis instructor, signing autographs, selling Negro Leagues memorabilia and speaking to young people about his experiences playing baseball.

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Burke lived in Pikesville at the time of his death in early 2004 at age 79, according to his obituary.

“There are so many young people who have never heard of the Negro Leagues,” Burke said in 1999. “I really shock them when I say where I played and who I played for.”

The Black History Month Leadership & Service Awards, a program of the Governor’s Office on Service and Volunteerism, are an annual award presented to representatives of organizations or volunteer groups, founded by African-Americans and based in Maryland, which “demonstrate commitment and dedication to changing Maryland for the better,” according to a news release from the Governor’s Coordinating Offices.

“I am pleased to recognize hard work and unwavering dedication from the best volunteers in the nation and seek with you to educate citizens about the significance of the African American experience in Maryland,” Rutherford said. “Thank you for carrying on the legacy of Maryland’s great heroes and addressing community needs.”

This year’s award was named in honor Verda Freeman Welcome, Maryland’s first African-American state senator, according to the state news release.

Havre de Grace Mayor William T. Martin, who has been a supporter of the Burke statue project, noted Murphy’s receipt of a “very prestigious award” while speaking during the Feb. 18 City Council meeting.

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“Thank you for doing all that you’re doing, being an advocate for your community,” he said of Murphy.

She said Wednesday that the statue of Burke will be erected in Tydings Park along the Susquehanna River/Chesapeake Bay waterfront. The committee is working with Detroit-based sculptor Austen Brantley, who is developing a maquette, or clay model, of the statue.

The committee, as well as Havre de Grace city officials and consultant Jim McFarland, of Harford Community College, is scheduled to meet Friday and review the maquette, Murphy said.

The design is meant to show Burke in a pitching pose, and committee members want to ensure Burke’s uniform is authentic to the style worn by Negro Leagues players in the late 1940s. The sculptor can proceed to the molding phase once the final design of the maquette is approved, according to Murphy.

“We think he has excellent creative ability, and so far, we’ve had a very good working relationship with him,” Murphy said of Brantley.

Committee leaders hope the statue can be erected by the fall of 2020. At least $25,000 has been committed to the project so far, including $10,000 from Harford County government, $5,000 from the City of Havre de Grace and $10,000 from the Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway organization.

The committee needs to raise about $20,000 to cover the full costs of the project, according to Murphy. Anyone who wants to contribute can visit the committee website at https://ernestburkebaseball.org; they also can contact Community Projects of Havre de Grace Inc. at 410-939-9003 or communityprojectsofhdg@gmail.com.

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