IT WAS A FUNDAMENTAL, old-fashioned approach to the civil rights of Americans that won Berkeley Burrell a place of respect in the ranks of national black leaders. Mr. Burrell, who died here Thursday night at the age of 60, was "Mr. Black Business" -- a gentle Washingtonian determined to establish and enlarge commercial opportunities for minority enterprise.

Besides believing in and speaking for business, Mr. Burrell succeeded in it. "I had only $100 when I came out of the service," he once recalled, "but I was determined I wasn't going to work for someone else. So I rented a store . . . and sort of stumbled into the dry cleaning business." That "stumble" led to a thriving establishment on Georgia Avenue that served dozens of independent cleaners; a greeting-card business; and partnership in a land-deveopment firm.

It also led Mr. Burrell to the presidency of the nation's oldest black business organization -- the National Business League, founded by Booker T. Washington in 1900. In that capacity, Mr. Burrell served as an adviser to several presidents on business matters in particular and civil-rights questions in general; for those and other achievements, he was listed by Ebony Magazine as one of the 100 most influential blacks in America. All along, Mr. Burrell also contributed time and money to community causes, serving as president of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce and as a member or officer of countless local business, civic and charitable groups.

So it was no surprise to his legions of friends here and across the country when Mr. Burrell was chosen in 1965 to receive from the Small Business Administration Washington's first "Small Businessman of the Year Award." If there could be any quibble, it would be that, as a generous and devoted friend of his city, there was never anything "small" about Berkeley Burrell.