know the history behind Burke, Virginia names

Former reporter David Martosko has initiated a campaign to rename Burke, Virginia, seeking to disassociate the town from Silas Burke, an enslaver, and instead honor Fenton, a six-year-old child he enslaved. Silas Burke, a historical figure in the area, was a judge, sheriff, farmer, and businessman who owned slaves. Martosko’s Fenton Project aims to rename two census-designated places, Burke and Burke Centre, to Fenton and Fenton Centre, respectively.

Martosko’s research revealed records of Silas Burke purchasing Fenton in 1826 for $206, alongside other items. Using property tax records, Martosko estimated that Fenton was likely only six years old when enslaved by Burke. Further historical findings showed that Burke continued to own enslaved individuals, with census records in 1850 listing nine children and county records in 1855 indicating 14 enslaved people.

The campaign comes amid a nationwide reckoning with historical racial injustice, marked by efforts to remove Confederate statues and rename military bases. Martosko emphasizes the need for communities to confront their history, even if it challenges established narratives. While acknowledging the positive aspects of Burke, he believes that people should have the opportunity to learn about the town’s roots and make informed decisions about its name.

The Fenton Project is set to progress with a public meeting in the coming weeks, and Martosko has already launched a website to share information and updates. The initiative represents an ongoing nationwide dialogue on confronting and addressing historical legacies tied to slavery.

As David Martosko’s Fenton Project gains momentum, he plans to host a public meeting in the near future to engage with the community and discuss the proposed renaming of Burke to Fenton. This initiative reflects a broader trend across the United States, where communities are reevaluating the names of places and landmarks that honor individuals linked to slavery or historical injustices.

Martosko’s effort to rename Burke is not without challenges. He acknowledges that some may resist the change, associating the name Burke with positive aspects of the town. However, he believes that providing historical context and fostering an open dialogue can help the community make informed decisions about the renaming.

The unveiling of the Fenton Project’s website serves as a central platform for sharing information and updates with the public. Through this digital space, Martosko aims to keep the community informed about the historical research, discussions, and decisions related to the proposed renaming. The website may also serve as a forum for community members to express their opinions and engage in the ongoing conversation about the town’s identity.

While the Fenton Project represents a localized effort, it aligns with broader national conversations about addressing historical injustices, acknowledging the impact of slavery, and fostering a more inclusive and equitable understanding of local histories. Martosko’s dedication to unveiling the complexities of Burke’s past, even when met with resistance, reflects a commitment to historical truth and a desire to shape a more inclusive narrative for the future.

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