Burke, Ernest


Born: June 26, 1924
January 31, 2004

Ernest Burke was born in Harve de Grace, Maryland on June 26, 1924. Both his mother and father died when Ernest was very young and, from the age of 9, he was raised by a French Canadian family in Iberville, Canada. The first sport Ernest learned was skiing.

He returned to the United States to enlist in World War II. Ernest was one of the Corps' first black Marines and fought in WWII in the Pacific. He earned a medal as a Sharp Shooter. His honorable discharge papers include the commander's description of Ernest as possessing "excellent character". (Note: His daughter, Valerie, recently retired from the Corps after 20 years of service.) It was as a Marine that Ernest first began playing baseball.

After receiving an honorable discharge, he played with the Baltimore Elite Giants from 1946 to 1949. As a pitcher, he had a 4-1 season record. In the off-seasons, Ernest played ball in South America.

In 1949, he joined the Pough-Kingston team in the Western Leagure as a pitcher, outfielder and third baseman where he batted .253. Ernest then spent two years with St Jean in the Canadian Provincial League where he hit .308 and .258, had a pitching record of 15-3 and 8-8, and a 4.33 ERA.

Ernest played semi-pro football as a fullback. He also worked for 20 years as a heavy equipment tester for Knox Construction in Baltimore. He took early retirement from Knox to devote time to his then newborn grandson, Jamal, who, as an infant, was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. In his 50s, Ernest took up the sport of tennis and eventually became a professional tennis instructor. He has taught tennis at many clubs in the Baltimore area.

Read a wonderful paper about Ernest Burke, written by Scott Owens, Loyola College.

Read about a Howard County (Maryland) Youth Baseball Team’s visit with Mr. Burke.

Read about Mr. Burke appearance at the Babe Ruth Birthplace Museum

Ernest Burke: A Small Sampling of Honors and Awards Received

  • Keynote speaker, 50th Anniversary Celebration of Jackie Robinson's "Breaking the Color Barrier in Baseball", Smithsonian Institute
  • Honored by the Baltimore City Council, June 2002 - see image->
  • The only non-Ripken player featured in the Cal Ripken Museum. Showcased installed November 7, 1998
  • "Ernest Burke Day" proclaimed in Aberdeen, Maryland, April 25, 1998
  • "Ernest Burke Day" proclaimed in Harve de Grace, Maryland, April 20, 1998
  • Guest of Honor and Keynote Speaker, Marine Corps 4MCD NCO Mess Night, January 13, 2000
  • Excellence Award, Holy Cross Academy, March 2001
  • Earned numerous medals in a variety of events when competing in the Senior Olympics in the years 1989-1993
  • Disabled American Veterans Outstanding Service Award, January 1974
  • Mayor's Citation and Presidential Citation, August 3, 1996
  • Community Partnership Award, City of Baltimore, MD, September 22, 1995
  • Chinquapin Middle School's Champion of Courage Award, February 27, 1997
  • Warren Elementary School's Award of Appreciation for Technical Assistance for the Odyssey of the Mind Program, June 4, 1998

Photo Credit: A. Chung, Baltimore Sun 2/10/2002Ernest Burke: Featured in Numerous TV, Newspaper and Magazine Articles Including

  • CNN
  • The Baltimore Sun (most recently, "When Baseball Giants 'Could Move Mountains', Febrary 10, 2002)
  • The Washington Post
  • Match Point Tennis Magazine ("The Importance of Being Ernest Burke", November 1995)

Ernest Burke: Quote

When asked about his career highlights, Ernest said, "I had many exciting moments in my baseball career. However, what I love the most are the hundreds of letters I've received from young people telling me how much they appreciated learning about the Negro Leagues".