Havre de Grace mayor hopes to have memorial to Negro League's Ernest Burke this year

Efforts to erect a suitable memorial to the late Ernest Burke, who played in the Negro baseball leagues, are progressing in Burke’s hometown of Havre de Grace.
Efforts to erect a suitable memorial to the late Ernest Burke, who played in the Negro baseball leagues, are progressing in Burke’s hometown of Havre de Grace.(Andre F. Chung / Sun file photo 2002)

This is going to be the year a memorial to Ernest Burke, who played in the Negro professional baseball leagues in the 1940s, is erected in Havre de Grace, the city's mayor said Monday.

"The council has been talking about this. This is going to be the year. We've talked about it too long," Mayor Bill Martin said during a public hearing Monday on the city's proposed $14.6 million budget for fiscal year 2018.


During the hearing, Camay Murphy, who lives on Green Street and has been working on the memorial project, asked the council to include some money for a statue of Burke in the budget.

"We're hopingmoney is just floating around we could push to our Ernest Burke effort," Murphy said.

The Havre de Grace City Council accepted a donation of $100,000 from Louis and Phyllis Friedman toward the renovation of the city's Opera House, as the council recognized several prominent residents Tuesday night.

Martin's proposed budget does not include funding for the project.

"We are committed to the accomplishment of this statue," Martin said. "Whether it's a line item or money comes available, my goal is to fund it and I'm pretty sure the council is in line."

Burke was born in Havre de Grace in 1924 and served in the first African-American U.S. Marine unit in World War II, according to a resolution the council approved supporting the memorial last July.

After returning home, he played third base and pitcher for the Baltimore Elite Giants, a professional baseball team in the former African-American League from 1946 to 1949.

Before his death at age 79 in 2004, Burke was active in promoting the history of the Negro professional leagues, which flourished in the first half of the 20th Century prior to the breaking of the Major Leagues' "color line" by Jackie Robinson.

The group working on the Burke memorial project has already raised about $15,000, Murphy said, which Martin and the council commended.


A bronze, free-standing statue from the waist up starts at $60,000, she said.

Because of the high cost, people working on the project are looking into alternatives to a bronze 3D statue, she said.

Murphy said they would like to approach corporations about donations to the project, but before she can do that, a site for the statue must be chosen, and they must have an estimate of the number of visits expected per year.

"That's going to be critical" to getting donations, Murphy said.

Martin said he and Murphy could ride around the city in the next few weeks to find a spot.

"Let's get it done," he said.

Harford County’s “Choose Civility” campaign kicked off with a breakfast event at the Water’s Edge Events Center in Belcamp on Wednesday.