City officials remember Burns as trailblazer for black leadership

Councilman and mayor recalled for `heart of gold'

January 14, 2003|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

Mayor Martin O'Malley Workers draped black bunting above the front door of City Hall and lowered the flag to half-staff yesterday to mark the death of Clarence H. Du Burns, the first black mayor of Baltimore.

Burns, 84, died of kidney failure at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center on Sunday, about 16 years after the former City Council president ascended to the mayor's office to replace William Donald Schaefer, who was elected governor.

Although Burns served as mayor for only 11 months, before being beaten in the 1987 Democratic primary by Kurt L. Schmoke, several city officials praised yesterday Burns' contributions to the city as a pioneer for African-Americans seeking higher office.

"Mayor Burns laid the foundation for many of us who are now in politics. He opened the door and allowed us to get involved in local government," said City Council President Sheila Dixon. "He always said to me, `The key is when you give someone your word, it's your bond. And if you stick to that, you will always do well.'"

Mayor Martin O'Malley said yesterday that the city will find a way to honor Burns in the Martin Luther King Jr. Parade planned for Monday.

"Du Burns had a heart of gold. He believed strongly in the people of East Baltimore and the people of this entire city," said O'Malley. "He never tired of doing things for people. That's what made him happy. To top it off, Du never lost his sense of humor, even after all those years in public office. He was a humble man who achieved great things. He will be sorely missed."

Services for Burns will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, 5300 N. Charles St. He will be buried at New Cathedral Cemetery, 4300 Old Frederick Road.

Afterwards, friends and relatives are invited to gather at the Du Burns Arena, 1301 S. Ellwood Ave.

A public viewing is scheduled from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. tomorrow at the Vaughn Greene Funeral Home, 4905 York Road.

During a City Council meeting last night, the council unanimously passed a resolution honoring "the passing of a singular man whose imprint will forever remain on the social, political and historical panorama that is Baltimore City."

Burns served on the council from 1971 to 1987, becoming its first black president in 1986.

City Councilwoman Paula Johnson Branch was one of several council members who spoke publicly about Burns' contributions at last night's meeting, saying Burns was like a father to her. She said Burns gave her away at her wedding and acted as a mentor for her political career.

Branch recalled several words of advice that he passed along to her, including "Make two friends every day, because you're going to lose some daily."

"He touched a lot of people in a very positive way," said City Councilman Robert Curran, who wore a yellow "Du Burns for Mayor" cap from Burns' 1987 campaign.

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