Mayor Clarence H. "Du" Burns
(1918 - 2003)

When historians pen the history of Baltimore City, one name that will surely stand the test of time, will be that of Clarence H. “Du” Burns. Most notably will be “Du” Burns’ ascension as the 45th and first African-American mayor in the history of Baltimore City. But, Du’s accomplishments merely do not end there, for “Du” Burns was a trailblazer.  Born on September 13, 1918, the son of Clarence and Selena Burns, “Du” was truly a doer, visionary and a history maker several times over.

A Man of Action - A “Doer”

            As a youth, “Du” Burns recognized and understood the notion that “saying is one thing,
while doing is another.”  As a teenager throughout the wards and precincts of old East Baltimore, young Clarence became known as someone to count on, someone who could do anything.  Thus, he earned the nickname “Du”.  Throughout his life, “Du” never stopped delivering - stopped doing.

            At a time when there were no African-American elected officials, “Du” Burns skillfully mastered the process of practical politics. Beginning at the age of 21, “Du” entered the political arena as a Ward Lieutenant, a position previously held by his father Clarence, Sr.  In 1947, “Du” founded and served as board chairman of his own political club, which evolved into today’s Eastside Democratic Organization (EDO).  In return for EDO’s support in turning out the vote, “Du” was awarded a job with the city of Baltimore at Dunbar High School, where he remained for 22 years. 

A Man of Many “Firsts”

            In November of 1971, “Du” Burns was elected to the Baltimore City Council from the then Second Councilmanic District.  It did not take long for his new colleagues to understand how “Du” earned his nickname. Through hard work, perseverance and a reverence for the human spirit, “Du” helped transform the most blighted enclaves of East Baltimore into the “real substance” of Baltimore’s renaissance. As Chairman of the Urban Affairs Committee of the City Council, “Du” Burns was instrumental in providing educational opportunities, employment and training programs, housing and medical clinics for all the citizens of Baltimore.

            Du’s leadership ability lead to his unanimous selection in 1977 as the first African-American Vice-President of the Baltimore City Council. At the time, what appeared to be a modest ascension, proved to be the “first” of many “firsts” for “Du” Burns. For in 1982, “Du” was again chosen by his peers on the City Council to fill the unexpired term of City Council President due to the resignation of Walter Orlinsky. Thus, “Du” became the first African-American President of the Baltimore City Council on October 25, 1982.  In November 1983, “Du” again made history, by an overwhelming majority, by becoming the first African-American elected to the Council Presidency. On January 26, 1987, “Du” Burns became the 45th and first African-American mayor in the history of Baltimore City, filling the unexpired term of William Donald Schaefer. 

A Record of Achievement

            A native of East Baltimore, “Du” dedicated his life towards the improvement and resurgence of this area. Some of Du’s proudest achievements were the creation of the new Dunbar High School complex; the East Baltimore Medical Plan, the first community based health maintenance organization (HMO) in the country; and Ashland Mews, which provided 372 town homes for first-time homeowners. “Du” also secured the development of senior housing throughout East Baltimore.  “Du” Burns was one of the founding members of the East Baltimore Community Corporation (EBCC), a nonprofit organization that provides comprehensive substance abuse services (one of the oldest in the state), youth and family services, job training and placement, alternative education and serves as a catalyst for economic development.  “Du” served for 17 years as EBCC’s chair of the Board of Directors.

The Early Years

            Prior to entering public service, “Du” Burns was educated at Frederick Douglas High School and the Larry London School of Music.  “Du” was a talented saxophonist and self-proclaimed “small time jazz musician”.  An avid lover of Dixieland jazz, “Du” loved visiting New Orleans to relax after an election and listen to “real jazz”.  “Du” married the former Edith Phillips on November 5, 1939 and they have one daughter Cheryl Ann Burns. In 1943, “Du” joined the United States Army Air Corps and was stationed at McDill Field AFB, in Tampa, Florida.  He was honorably discharged in 1946, and returned to his native Baltimore to begin his lifelong service to the people of East Baltimore. 

The People’s Champion

            Without a doubt,  “Du” Burns was “the people’s champion”. Du’s tireless efforts on behalf of families, working men and women, the young and elderly serves as a legacy for us all. Sadly, “Du” Burns departed this world on January 12, 2003, after a long illness.  It has been said that “Life grants nothing to us mortals without hardwork.” Surely, the life of Mayor Clarence H. “Du” Burns is a testament to that truism. 

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