Article and Photography by D’Asya Nelson | Owl Staff
Ernest Burke was the first Black Marine to fight in World War II. In addition, he is best remembered for his time playing on the Baltimore Elite Giants. In 2021, he was honored with a statue in Havre de Grace, Maryland, 97 years after his birth.
Burke was the youngest of 5 children, born on June 26th, 1924. His parents, Clarence and Teresa Mitchell Burke, were both from Perryville, Maryland. Burke and his family relocated to Havre de Grace, Maryland where they eventually left due to the death of their parents. At age 9 or 10, Ernest lived with Mr. and Mrs. Maynard in Iberville, Canada.
Mr. and Mrs. Maynard saw Ernest working hard and taking care of himself well for someone so young. They also noticed how ambitious and resilient he was at a young age. Mr. and Mrs. Maynard were determined to provide him with a home. By the time Burke was 18 years old, he returned to Maryland to enlist in the US Marine Corps.
By being the first Black Marine, he fought with a segregated unit in the Pacific Theatre where he earned a medal as a “Sharpshooter.” Burke was very well liked; when he received an honorable discharge, his commander described Ernest as being an excellent character.
While stationed in Hawaii, Burke decided to begin playing serious baseball. He was a part of the Marine Baseball team. A natural born athlete, he helped his team win the Pacific Championship.
A fellow baseball player suggested that Ernest should consider playing in the Negro Leagues. Following Burke’s discharge, he contacted the Baltimore Elite Giants. The Elite Giants were a Black team who played at the Bugle field in East Baltimore. Burke played with the Elite Giants from 1946 to 1949. During these years, he played the position of a pitcher.
After his time on the Baltimore Elite Giants, Burke decided to join the Pough-Kingston team in the Western League. He joined the team as a pitcher, outfielder and third baseman. He then went on to spend two years with St. Jean in the Canadian Provincial League.
His legacy was celebrated on June 26, 2021 with the Ernest Burke Memorial sculpture. The statue was created by Austen Brantley, an African American sculptor from Detroit, Michigan. Some of Burke’s family and friends were in attendance, some of whom had been working with the Ernest Burke Memorial Sculpture Committee for 10 years to get the sculpture erected. There were also people who wanted to learn more about their history through hearing about Ernest Burke’s life.
Immortalized through art, Ernest Burke remains a historical figure who character stands the test of time.
Check out Owl Magazine’s video on the Ernest Burke Memorial sculpture: https://fb.watch/91dMIRCX7C/