Douglas Block Stories: Honoring Earl Carnegie “Doc” Burnette (1907-1976)

 One of the important pieces of the puzzle from the ‘Revitalization Rocky Mount Puzzle Box’ is the historic Douglas Block named for Dr. Junious Douglas, an African-American pharmacist. The Douglas Block was home to shops, restaurants, entertainment centers, and medical services owned and operated by African-Americans. Today it is home to people who believe in the revitalization of the historic downtown district and are doing business where the original black community will always be remembered

We have Di Riceratore to thank for research that helps us pay tribute to an important and distinguished family in the community. We honor Earl Carnegie “Doc” Burnette.  Come and stand with me on the sidewalk in front of The Prime Smokehouse, and look kiddie-corner across the street to the Burnette Building, part of the Douglas Block restoration. You have to let the scene come to you, the privilege of looking back at a time and place that is integral to the Rocky Mount story. With eyes to see, you are looking at the Burnette Drug Company established by Baker Burnette (1878-) who obtained a medical degree but worked as a pharmacist. His nephew, Earl Carnegie “Doc” Burnette, who we honor in this post, worked in the Burnette Drug store early in his life and later became the owner, and in the 1960s co-owned the business with Fred S. Biggs.

Earl Burnette was born and raised on the family farm near Hamilton and Oak City, in Martin County. Earl’s father sent him to live with an uncle in Rocky Mount to obtain the best available education. Earl was in the first graduating class at Booker T. Washington High School (established 1927.)Rocky Mount at that time was in a boom phase, driven by a profitable tobacco market and the Atlantic Coastline Railroad Emerson Shops.

Following in the footsteps of his two uncles, Earl attended college, earning a BA at Shaw University. Only 5’7″ and 168 pounds, nonetheless, he enjoyed a reputation as a powerful center on the football team. He then obtained a Masters’s degree from NYU. He pursued further education at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and Meharry Medical College in Nashville, TN. Though he apparently did not obtain a medical license, he acquired the nickname, “Doc.”

Mr. Burnette also pursued a teaching career. He was on the faculty at Patillo High School in Tarboro (1933-9), and in Rocky Mount at Parker Junior High and Booker T. Washington High School. He coached football at both Patillo and BTW, and won a championship while at Patillo.

Mr. Burnette married Juanita Exum (1920-2005.) also a teacher. Juanita met Earl when she began teaching at the former Lincoln Elementary School in Rocky Mount in the late 1940s In her later years, she taught at Baskerville Elementary in Rocky Mount. They had one child, Francine Elaine Burnett who continued the family tradition of education obtaining degrees from George Washington University (BA Speech-Language Pathology, 1979) and the University of North Carolina (MA, 1980.)

Earl Burnette died on March 15, 1976, after an illness. His service was at Metropolitan Baptist Church, where he had been active in leadership roles for decades. Mr. Burnette is buried in Rocky Mount’s Northeastern Cemetery, next to his wife.

If you have further information about “Doc” Burnette, please add it in the comment section below for everyone’s enjoyment. Thank you.

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