Letter: Keep the Town Name of Burke VA

Letter: Keep the Town Name of Burke VA

My parents and I came to Burke in 1961 when I was two years old and I grew up here. My mom still lives in our old home place and has for over 63 years, and wanted me to speak on her behalf. 

I remember when Keene Mill Road was two lanes and part of it was a dirt road. As far back as the mid -1960s, we used to take walks to Silas Burke’s grave. It was all forest and fields back then. The population of Burke in 1960 was 150 people, and we knew about a third of them. They were the old timers of Burke; they have almost all passed away now. But they taught me about the history of Burke and who Silas Burke was.

I learned many years ago that Silas Burke owned slaves, which did not surprise me. I do not defend Silas Burke for owning or selling slaves. I would like to think all of us would say this was certainly wrong. But I am concerned about changing the name of Burke for two reasons.

First, as Mr. Martosko has said, he is not trying to rename everything or every place that is named for Burke, but if the town’s name is changed, make no mistake, I think Burke landmarks would eventually follow. And certainly, if the name is changed, our post office would have to change its name to Fenton, which would mean thousands of you would instantly have incorrect addresses. Think of it. Thousands would have to get and pay for new driver’s licenses, change financial documents, business accounts, insurance, pensions, and there could be confusion from businesses, wondering why you didn’t inform them that you moved.

And think of the deeds to your homes and property. Deeds are legal documents kept as county records. Virtually overnight all your home deeds (some 14,000) would have address errors, which would have to be corrected. This would be a mess for the county, and I don’t know how it would be done. Perhaps owners might have to pay a real estate professional or perhaps a lawyer? Whatever the fix would be, changing the name of the town could cause Burke residents financial burdens and I hope not legal problems. These things need to be carefully considered.

My second reason for not changing the name Burke, is because the fact is for nearly 200 years this area has been named Burke or Burke’s Station — simply because Silas Burke owned much of the land here, served his community as a judge, a sheriff, a farmer, was a soldier in a Virginia militia well before the civil war, and, yes, he was a slave holder, and we need to remember that and remember those who labored here in bondage.

The town’s name is Burke — names are important! They identify our community, they give gravity to the places we live, they tie us to our history — some of which was good and some that was shameful. But it is still the history of this land. This is not like changing the name of a sports team.

In closing, one of the things that has crossed my mind is that when my time is up, I don’t want my obituary to say that I grew up and spent most of my life in Fenton. Because it isn’t true! For six years I went to Burke Elementary School when it was the only school around.

When I was five, I caught my first fish in Burke Lake.

So I ask all of you: avoid problems, remember our Virginia history, and keep this town Burke Virginia, U.S.A.