Statue honoring Mayor Du Burns planned in city

ARCHITECTURE

October 29, 2007|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN ARCHITECTURE CRITIC

William Donald Schaefer isn't the only former Baltimore mayor who may soon get a larger-than-life statue to himself downtown.

A local nonprofit group has raised more than $300,000 to erect a 10-foot-tall statue of Clarence H. Du Burns, Baltimore's first African-American mayor and 45th mayor overall, who rose from humble beginnings to hold the city's top position for 11 months in 1987.

A one-time high school locker room attendant from East Baltimore, Burns was president of the Baltimore City Council in January 1987, when Schaefer left the mayor's office to become governor of Maryland. Burns automatically succeeded Schaefer as mayor.

Burns then ran for a four-year term but was defeated in the September 1987 primary election by Kurt L. Schmoke, who won the general election and replaced Burns in December 1987. Burns died in 2003 at age 84.

The statue is one of several projects planned by the Clarence H. Du Burns Memorial Fund, an organization founded last year. Its chairman and CEO is Sean D. Burns, an attorney with the Law Offices of Peter G. Angelos and great-nephew of Burns.

The memorial fund's first undertaking will be to erect a statue to Burns "at an appropriate location within the city of Baltimore," Sean Burns writes in a message posted on the fund's Web site, duburns memorialfund.org.

The fund is also building an endowment that can pay for other initiatives to carry on Burns' legacy, including a graduate and undergraduate fellowship program and a scholars program for high school students, especially "individuals who desire to pursue careers in the public sector," according to the Web site.

The City Council has allocated $200,000 for the proposed statue to Burns, and the Maryland General Assembly this year allocated $100,000 for the statue. Its total estimated cost is $600,000.

A bond bill approved by state legislators says the memorial will be 10 feet tall and donated to the city for placement on public land. The public funds became available July 1, but they must be matched with private funds before the project can proceed.

Silver Spring-based artist Simmie Knox will create the memorial to Burns, according to a 2007 bond bill fact sheet presented to state legislators. Knox made a bust of former Morgan State University music director Nathan Carter for that campus and has painted portraits of former President Bill Clinton, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and former New York Mayor David Dinkins, among others.

The Schaefer statue was proposed by a group headed by First Mariner Bancorp Chairman Edwin F. Hale Sr. Hale's group has offered to underwrite the cost of the Schaefer statue but wants to have it erected on public land, preferably the plaza between the two pavilions at Harborplace. Sculptor Rodney Carroll's vision is for a 9-foot-tall figure of Schaefer to rise on a 6-foot-tall pedestal.

A site for the Burns statue has not been determined. On Sept. 25, 2006, the City Council adopted a resolution supporting the idea of placing the memorial on the east side of Baltimore's City Hall, overlooking War Memorial Plaza. But another statue, called the Negro Heroes of the United States, was placed in that spot last fall, forcing the Burns Memorial Fund group to find another site. City officials say the Inner Harbor shoreline is one possibility, but no final decisions have been made.

Sean Burns said he is open to suggestions as long as it's a place that will be seen by a large number of people.

"I would want it to be in a prominent place with a lot of foot traffic," he said. "It's a way for those who didn't know Du Burns to learn about him."

State Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, another supporter of the Burns memorial project, said he, too, is eager to see a statue of Baltimore's first African-African mayor in a prominent location. He believes it would send a powerful message to young people.

"It's not how you start in life," McFadden said. "It's how you end up. It's how you maximize the skills you have. And no one epitomizes that more than a man who rose from locker room attendant to be the chief executive of the city. We need to keep his memory alive for the children of this city."

Grand prize winner

The Institute for Scientific Research in Fairmont, W.Va., designed by Grant Architects of Baltimore, was named the grand prize winner in the 2007 Design for Excellence awards program sponsored by the Baltimore chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

ed.gunts@baltsun.com

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