LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Long-time civil rights activist and founder of Pride Inc. George Burney died early Wednesday. Burney was 89 years old.
A post on the Pride Inc. Facebook page says he was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer nearly two months ago.
Burney is well known for his many years leading the Reverend Martin Luther King Junior parade. But he also worked to pride support for the community and especially children. Burney's efforts to collect and buy bikes for children and provide Easter baskets made him a favorite for young people.
Mayor Greg Fischer honored Burney with the 2016 MLK Freedom Award. The ceremony focused on his activist roots in the fight for social change with 1950s sit-in in the "whites-only" section of the Louisville bus depot, which led to its integration. Burney was inducted into the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame in 2012.
Fischer released a statement, after learning of Burney's death.
“George was a trailblazer, first on the stage and TV screen as a dancer, and then on the streets, as a tireless advocate for civil rights. Like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., George’s fight for civil and human rights extended far beyond his hometown, into places like Seattle, Vancouver and Alaska. George was a man of great optimism and energy who willingly shared his time and his talents long past the age when others might have moved off stage. I was blessed to have known him as a friend and mentor. I grieve with his wife, Barbara, even as I celebrate a life so well lived.” - Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer
Kentucky 3rd District Representative John Yarmuth has been friends with Burney for years and says his dedication will be missed in Louisville and beyond.
"George Burney was a force in Louisville and beyond, fighting for equality and a better life for all. Every Christmas season he brought joy and gifts to west Louisville children, and I know his many neighbors will always remember his generous spirit. I am proud to have known him for years and called him a friend." --Kentucky 3rd District Representative John Yarmuth
Local NAACP president Raoul Cunningham tells WDRB that he wants to "express sympathy to his wife Barbara and his family. He will be severely missed in terms of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Junior holiday and his civic work."
District 1 Metro Councilwoman Jessica Green says,"Mr. Burney has been a lifelong friend to me, and to my entire family. I have vivid memories of participating in his motorcade parades, and community events dating back to as long as I can remember. Mr. Burney spent his entire life giving or his time, talents, and treasures. His legacy will live on forever, and he will never be forgotten. My thoughts and prayers go out to Ms. Bea and his entire family during this time.”
District 2 Metro Councilwoman Barbara Shanklin writes, "Many of us who worked with him will always appreciate his tireless efforts to honor civil rights and his dedication to the community and its young people. There are many people who talk about what needs to be done, George Burney not only talked the talk he walked the walk when it came to addressing the needs of the people of Metro Louisville. He was the example that young people should follow when it comes to being a citizen and being involved for the benefit of all.”
District 3 Metro Councilwoman Mary C. Woolridge praised Burney, “He should be remembered as a person who was ALWAYS trying to help someone no matter whether you were young or old, rich or poor, black or white it just did not matter. I am proud and happy to have recently sponsored a Resolution approved by the Metro Council for an Honorary Street name change for Mr. George L Burney, Sr. on Hill Street from 22nd to Wilson Avenue. It will be named “George L Burney Sr. Way” in his honor. I am just so very sorry that he will not be with us for the unveiling of his Honorary Street sign but I know he will be with us in spirit. George was my friend and I truly loved him no one will ever be able to take his place in my heart or fill his shoes. The city has lost a great man. I am blessed to have worked with a legend. My heartfelt condolences go out to his all of his family.”
District 4 Metro Councilwoman Barbara Sexton Smith says, “George Burney lived his life as a true Champion of civil rights and a crusader for the power of peace. He always received me with open arms and helped guide me through my campaign for Metro Council. George would always say, "Now Barbara, you be careful out there. You don't need to be walking by yourself." Thank you George for caring so much for so many. You will be missed.”
District 5 Metro Councilwoman Cheri Bryant Hamilton wrote, “George Burney was a man who truly exemplified the real importance of giving back, whether to babies and seniors, or those often lost and forgotten. George realized that every life was important and had value. I can’t think of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. without thanking him for keeping the dream alive for future generations. “Baby” will be sorely missed. My deepest condolences to his wife, Barbara and his many friends and family.”
District 6 Metro Councilman David James says, “My thoughts and Prayers go out to George Bernie's family for their loss. Our community has lost a true community icon and beacon of love, strength, hope and compassion. He will truly be missed.”
Metro Council President David Yates, District 25, writes “On behalf of the Metro Council, I offer our sincere condolences to George Burney’s family. He was truly a man who had an impact on our city; always reminding us to remember those in need and to be the example of what is right and what to fight for. To many on the Metro Council he was a strong working partner to help those in need. ”
Burney also worked as a volunteer courthouse liaison for 30 years. In 2010, the Louisville Metro Police Department honored Burney as Volunteer of the Year.
According to a bio on his MLK Freedom Award, Burney was a successful bandleader and dancer as a young man. And he toured with the Bob Hope Show, and was part of an integrated group during times of segregation, along with Duke Ellington, Red Foxx, Della Reese, Etta James, Joe Tex and Lionel Hampton.
Funeral arrangements are pending.
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