Burke As An African American Last Name

The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 10,764 black Americans with Burke as their last name. That represented 9% of the total of 122,877 entries.

This article tracks their numbers in the census since the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named Burke.

We end with a review of early records of black military service in the United States.

After The Civil War

The 1870 census was the first survey after the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation. In 1850 and 1860, only free African Americans were recorded in the census. The many enslaved were omitted.

From 1870 onward, all black Americans were included.

1,109 people named Burke were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 259 as mixed.

There was a total of 21,558 people with the name.

Burke In The 1900 And 1940 Census

The mixed category was dropped from the census in 1900, so we just need to look at the black numbers this time.

The 1900 census recorded 2,217 people with the last name Burke as black within a total of 44,745 that year.

By the way, the mixed category returned in the 1910 and 1920 censuses. It was dropped again in 1930, but replaced with extra categories for colored and non-white in a way that seems confusing now.

This changed again in 1940 and we can simply focus on one black category.

The 1940 census recorded 3,943 people named Burke as black within a total of 74,636.

Historic Black Figures With The Burke Surname

Here is a notable African American in history with Burke as their last name.

Selma Burke

  • Born: 1900
  • From: Mooresville, North Carolina
  • Died: 1995

Selma Burke grew up near a river and played with the mud and clay as a child. This was the start of her love of sculpture.

Selma’s mother advised that she couldn’t make a living as an artist, so she qualified as a nurse. She moved to New York in 1935 and became a private nurse to a woman of considerable wealth. The lady would later become her patron.

Burke went to art classes in New York and continued to work with clay. Her brief marriage to the poet and author Claude McKay pulled her into the artistic circle of the Harlem Renaissance.

The Harlem Renaissance after the First World War was a period when African American art, literature, and music flourished around Harlem.

Painters, poets, writers, and musicians established a creative hub of black culture in the United States. The movement was hugely influential on the development of black literature and art through the twentieth century and today.

Selma Burke worked with the renowned sculptor Augusta Savage and traveled to Paris where Henri Matisse praised her artistic pieces.

Burke’s notable works include busts of figures like Duke Ellington, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Dr. Martin Luther King.

Burke In Black Military Records

Military records are a rich resource of information for family history research. Here are examples of the Burke surname from different military services:

  • Buffalo soldiers
  • Black civil war sailors
  • Tuskegee airmen

Buffalo Soldiers

Five regiments for black soldiers were formed during the Civil War. They were known as the Buffalo Soldiers.

Their records are part of the national archive of military monthly returns. The information includes the year and place of birth, where they enlisted, their occupation, and their height.

One of the earliest military entries for Burke was in February 1870. Orville Burke was a Captain in the U.S. Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in February 1870 at Fort Arbuckle, Indian Territory.

Another entry was in December 1914. Joseph Burke was a Trumpeter in the U.S. Tenth Cavalry.

If you are researching military ancestors, there is a free index of these records on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org.

You have to create an account on either website, but you do not need to pay for the Buffalo Soldiers archive.

Black Civil War Sailors

The National Parks Service has a free archive of African American sailors during the Civil War.

The information includes their age, height, rank, occupation, and where and when they enlisted. It also includes every ship that they served on.

You can search the database on the National Parks website.

William L. Burke

One of the earliest entries for Burke was for William L. Burke from Philadelphia. He enlisted in June 1863 at Cincinnati when he was aged 20.

The record shows that William L. was assigned on March 1864 to the ship Victory.

His occupation before enlisting was as a Cook. His naval rank was Seaman.

A seaman or “able seaman” in the Navy is a sailor who is not an officer.

Edward Burke

One of the later entries was for a sailor who enlisted at Hampton Roads in March 1863. Edward was aged 35 and was from Norfolk, Virginia.

He was assigned to the ship Ben Morgan on October 1865. His naval rank was Landsman.

“Landsman” was the lowest rank at the time and was given to recruits with little sea experience.

Tuskegee Airmen

The Tuskegee Airmen were military personnel who served at the Tuskegee Army Airfield or related programs.

Nearly one thousand black pilots graduated from the Tuskegee Institute. They flew single-engine fighter planes or twin-engine bombers. 352 fought in combat.

Vernon Burke graduated from the Tuskegee Institute in October 1948. He qualified as a fighter pilot.