Former Maryland legislator, NAACP leader Burns dies at 81

March 21, 2022 GMT
In this undated photo former Del. Rev. Emmett C. Burns Jr. speaks in Annapolis, Md. Burns, a civil rights leader in Maryland who also served in the General Assembly for 20 years, has died at age 81. Del. Benjamin Brooks Sr., who succeeded Burns in the legislature, told The Baltimore Sun that Burns died Thursday, March 17, 2022, at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore from complications of a fall. (Barbara Haddock Taylor/The Baltimore Sun via AP)
In this undated photo former Del. Rev. Emmett C. Burns Jr. speaks in Annapolis, Md. Burns, a civil rights leader in Maryland who also served in the General Assembly for 20 years, has died at age 81. Del. Benjamin Brooks Sr., who succeeded Burns in the legislature, told The Baltimore Sun that Burns died Thursday, March 17, 2022, at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore from complications of a fall. (Barbara Haddock Taylor/The Baltimore Sun via AP)

The Rev. Emmett C. Burns Jr., a civil rights leader in Maryland who also served in the General Assembly for 20 years, has died at age 81.

Del. Benjamin Brooks Sr., who succeeded Burns in the legislature, told The Baltimore Sun that Burns died Thursday at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore from complications of a fall.

Burns joined the House of Delegates in 1995, becoming the first African American elected to statewide government office from Baltimore County, the newspaper reported.

While a legislator, Burns led a successful campaign to name the Baltimore/Washington International Airport for Thurgood Marshall, the first Black justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Burns “was very instrumental and strong leader in the community,” Brooks said. “He was a man of morals, values, ethics and integrity. We are going to sorely miss him.”

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A native of Jackson, Mississippi, Burns got involved in civil rights work at a young age. His son, the Rev. Engel Burns, said his father grew up several blocks away from where civil rights leader Medgar Evers maintained an office.

After serving in several ministerial positions, the elder Burns in 1971 became director of the Mississippi State Conference of the NAACP, where he led protests against segregation and filed lawsuits seeking equal city services for Black and white people. He relocated in Baltimore in 1979 to become an NAACP regional director for Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

The Rev. Burns relocated to Baltimore in 1979 to serve as the NAACP’s first regional director, serving Maryland, Washington, and Virginia. He and his wife started Rising Sun First Baptist Church in 1983, and he retired from the NAACP 10 years later.

Survivors include his wife, the former Earlene Poe, along with three sons and five grandchildren.