Although everyone knows that our school, Burke High School, was named after Harry A. Burke, many do not know the history of our school and about Harry A. Burke himself. Recently, there has been talk on social media about Burke and its segregated past. It was featured on the North Omaha History Facebook page on Nov. 12 and was shared 437 times. The North Omaha History page labeled it as ‘FORGOTTEN HISTORY”.
“Dr. Harry A. Burke, namesake of Omaha Burke High School, used racism to run Omaha Public Schools from 1946 to 1962,” Herb Rhodes, North Omaha civil rights leader in the 50s and 60s, said in an interview with David Bristow, an official with the Nebraska State historical Society. Burke “proclaimed that as long as he was superintendent, there would not be a black educator in the school system, other than the two schools that served the black community,” Rhodes said. Burke believed in not having any black teachers and was opposed to any situation “where white children would see a black person in a role of prominence or authority.”
I believe that Harry A. Burke was racist based off these allegations. He tried to prevent black educators from the OPS school system and directly targeted their race. He should not be the face of our school and the title of our school because that is saying that we support racism. Even now, 60 years later, our school is still feeling the effects of his leadership, with few African American teachers.
It is important for our students to feel accepted for their race because it is who they are. The fact that our school was named after someone like Harry A. Burke might send the wrong message to Burke students. It could lead them to think that our school supports those opinions and that type of behavior. Changing the name of our school could send a message to students that we are against racism and bullying. I think that it would be a positive change to our school and challenge students to think about what is going on around them and make a difference.
As a solution, our school should be renamed after other historical figures, like one of the Omaha Public Schools first African American teachers, Lucinda Gamble. Gamble was a mother of three children, a dedicated church and community leader throughout North Omaha. Gamble graduated from Omaha High School as one of few African Americans to ever do that. After graduating, although strongly discouraged, she attended Omaha Normal School, Omaha Public Schools own teacher training program, where she then graduated in 1895. She first taught at Dodge High School in 1895, and then transferred to Cass High School when Dodge High closed down in 1898. She taught there until 1901, when she got married because it was a tradition at the time to leave the teaching profession when you got married. In the 1930’s, she continued helping Omaha Public Schools by being an adult education teacher and taught classes at the North Side YWCA until the early 1940s. Lucinda Gamble would be a better representation of our school and its values.