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Saturday, March 11, 2017

The "Little Did I Know ... She Was An Educational Legend" Story

Camay telling us about Ernest Burke's baseball
shoes that are in the showcase in front of her.
Behind her on the wall are sketches of a proposed
bronze statue of Mr. Burke to be placed in the
city of Havre de Grace, Maryland.
It was an ordinary day.  Standing in a small building along the Susquehanna River in Havre de Grace, Maryland listening to a lovely woman telling the history of African American baseball players who played in the Negro League; one Ernest Burke to be exact, a resident of the town in which I am now a visitor.  He was born in Havre de Grace on June 26, 1924.  During WWII he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and was one of the first black U.S. Marines to serve in the war and earn a medal as a sharpshooter.  It was during his duty in the Pacific that he began to play baseball.  After the war he became a pitcher and outfielder for the Baltimore Elite Giants in the Negro American League.  He played for Baltimore from 1946 to 1949 and then joined the Pough-Kingston team in the Western League and finally played in the Canadian Provincial League.  
One side of a hand-out about
the display in the museum.
The display in the small second story
room of the Susquehanna Museum at the Lock House tells the story of Ernest, but the real hero in my eyes is the woman telling his story.  The woman, whose name is Camay Murphy is 90 years old and seems to be having the best time telling us about the young black baseball players who this exhibit is all about.  The entire exhibit honors the trailblazers of Negro League Baseball and Camay is well versed in the subject of baseball as well as educating the public about the Black baseball players impact on the game.  She talked with my wife and I, as well as our friend Just Sue, and when we asked her for her name and about herself she told us and also offered the information of being "Cab" Calloway's daughter.  Carol immediately said, "You mean 'The Hi De Ho Man.'" Camay immediately got a smile on her face and said, "Yes!"  Well, we made our way down the stairs and back to the car as we tried to remember a bit more about Camay's father.  
Camay is talking to Carol and Sue about the display.
Wasn't until I got home and Googled both Cab and Camay did I see just who we had been talking to a short time before.  Seems Cabel "Cab" Calloway III was an American jazz singer and bandleader associated with the Cotton Club in Harlem, New York during the era of Dizzy Gillespie and Adolphus "Doc" Cheatham.  In 1931 Calloway recorded his most famous song, "MInnie the Moocher", thus being given the nickname of "The Hi De Ho Man."  
An earlier photograph of Camay Murphy
Then a search of Camay told of her career as an educator who fought tirelessly to bring the arts into the lives of youth.  She was born on January 15, 1927 in New York City, lived in New York, but did spend her summers in Baltimore with her family.  She first taught in Alexandria, Virginia and then spent two years as headmaster at the Mayflower School in Ikenne, Nigeria before returning to teach once again in Alexandria.  From 1978 to 1993 she was the principal at Ashlawn Elementary School, a school recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School for its outstanding achievement scores, jazz program and renowned arts program.  
Ernest Burke in recent years. (June 26, 1924-January 31, 2004)
During those years as principal, Camay drove her ancient Mercedes 42 miles from her home in Baltimore to Ashlawn and then 42 miles back again at the end of the day.  Her love of music, as bestowed on her by her father, was responsible for Ashlawn having perhaps the only elementary school jazz band in the country.  She was also responsible for Arbor Day tree-plantings, poetry readings, "International Night", and personally teaching the school's children the "Electric Slide."  She was not only a first class educator, but an extremely caring person when children were involved.  And, I must admit, as I think back on our short time with her, I can just picture her in that roll as educator and humanitarian.  How lucky I was to have had the chance to talk to her about Black baseball players.  Wish I could have talked to her about education a bit more.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy. 

June 26, 1924 – January 31, 2004

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