Mother of civil rights attorney John Burris has passed, funeral June 10

by Lee Houskeeper

Imogene Burris, 90, died on Friday, May 27, at Kaiser Hospital, Vallejo, after an extended illness but short hospital stay.

John-Burris-his-mother-Imogene-Burris-Pres.-Obama, Mother of civil rights attorney John Burris has passed, funeral June 10, Culture Currents
John Burris and his mother, Imogene Burris, pose with President Obama.

John Burris said that he is deeply saddened by his mother’s passing but he is most thankful for her amazing life and the human gifts of giving, sharing and social justice which she bestowed on everyone, especially him. Burris says that his mother was “the wind beneath his wings” and was his number one fan, often attending his speeches and critiquing his television appearances, which gave her unique pleasure.

She had a tremendous wit and he enjoyed their dialogue on all kinds of subjects, especially those involving current events and the status of the African American community. John says that his mother instilled in him the desire to lead a life that makes a difference by improving the lives of those less fortunate than you.

Mrs. Burris was a stylish dresser and a hallmark was her grand and colorful hats. John says that for many years his mother got a new hat for every Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day and her birthday. She had a hat for all occasions with matching purse, gloves and shoes. John says that his dad loved to see his mom “all gussied up.”

Mrs. Burris, for many years, was a business woman operating Summerside Homes, Vallejo, facilities for the developmentally disabled. She treated the clients as her own children and insisted that all employees treat the clients in the same manner.

Empathy for the less fortunate was at the core of her being. She was active in a number of community and business organizations, including the National Council of Negro Women, Delta Sigma Theta, and the Continentals of Omega Boys and Girls Club of Vallejo.

John said he and his mother traveled to Africa, visiting Senegal, Gabon, Ghana and the Ivory Coast . In many African villages, she was greeted as “Queen returning to the Motherland.”

John-Burris-his-mother-Imogene-Burris, Mother of civil rights attorney John Burris has passed, funeral June 10, Culture Currents
John Burris and his mother, Imogene Burris, who was known for her grand and colorful hats

It was her humanity that caused people from all walks of life to gravitate towards her. She traveled with family and friends to other parts of the world including France, the Netherlands, Italy, Mexico, Canada and all parts of the United States. John said she loved seeing other countries. She often said that traveling made her a better person.

Mrs. Burris was married for 67 years to the late DeWitt Burris and they had six children, two of whom preceded her in death. She is survived by daughter Faye Anderson (Edward/Tony), a retired middle school principal with San Francisco Unified School District, sons Rev. Dr. Ronald Burris (Lillian), an associate professor of church history at the American Baptist Seminary of the West and pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Richmond, and John, who is married to Cheryl Amana Burris, a law professor at North Carolina Central University School of Law.

Mrs. Burris has a host of grandchildren, great grandchildren, great great grandchildren, and several generations of nieces and nephews, all whom adored her and are mourning her passing. She was the “grand dame” and matriarch who took great pride in family, friends and the community at large.

All who met her could feel her kindness and sincerity. John said that her motto was “If I can be helpful, I will.” This is the legacy that she has left us, Burris said.

John said his mother loved family gatherings where she cooked an assortment of “soul food.” Her peach cobbler was always the toast of party.

Funeral services will be held on Friday, June 10, at 11 a.m. at Second Baptist Church, 1170 Benicia Road in Vallejo. Quiet hour will be on Thursday, June 9, from 6 to 7 p.m. at Wiggins Funeral Home on 524 Capitol St., Vallejo. Condolences can be sent to John Burris, 13730 Campus Drive, Oakland, CA 94605.

Lee Houskeeper of San Francisco Stories can be reached at