Longtime City Council member and public servant Vivian Burke died late Tuesday evening

Vivian H. Burke

Longtime City Council member and public servant Vivian Burke died late Tuesday evening
May 06
13:10 2020

Northeast Council Member Vivian H. Burke died Tuesday, May 5.  The longtime public servant was 85.  

In a statement released by Superior Court Judge L. Todd Burke (Ms. Burke’s son) regarding the passing of his mother, Judge Burke said, “My mother had become an icon in this community and beyond in the way she distinguished herself through public service for over four decades.” 
A native of Charlotte, Burke showed an interest in politics as early as high school when she started working as an advisor to then Charlotte City Council candidate Kelly Alexander, who would go on to serve as chair of the NAACP. 

After relocating to Winston-Salem in 1954 with her husband Logan (who would go on to serve two terms in the N.C. House of Representatives), Burke began her career in education. 

For more than 20 years, Burke worked as a teacher and guidance counselor in the local school district. Although she has been on record many times talking about how much she loved working in education, Burke’s passion for politics was always there. She served as leader of the local Democratic Party and in 1972 she was Forsyth County manager for Rep. Shirley Chisholm’s campaign. Chisholm is the first black candidate for a major political party’s presidential nomination. 

While still working as a guidance counselor full time, in 1977 Burke decided to run for Carl H. Russell’s vacant seat on the Board of Alderman (now City Council). With the campaign slogan “A Time for Change,” Burke went on to win the nomination to represent the Northeast Ward, becoming one of the first of two African American women to serve.  She would go on to serve for more than 40 consecutive years. 

Throughout her 43 years of service on the Board of Alderman and City Council, Burke served as chair of the Public Safety Committee and led the push to bring major changes to the Winston-Salem Police Department, including establishing the Citizen’s Police Review Board. Burke also pushed to have more qualified black people in positions of power and to have women recognized. She is credited for starting the Outstanding Women Leaders award. Burke also initiated the annual Citywide Neighborhood Conference, the East Winston Economic Development Initiative and the Burke-Jones Scholarship Award. 

She was also a member of several boards and associations, including the NAACP, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, National Women of Achievement and countless others. Burke was also a founding member of the local Black Political Awareness League. 

In December Burke announced that she would not be running for re-election. When reflecting on her political career during an interview with The Chronicle for a piece on local history makers, Burke said her success was due to hard work, loyalty, dedication, not making promises she can’t keep, and working hard to do what she says she’ll do. 

Mayor Joines issued a statement regarding Burke’s death, saying in part, “Councilmember Vivian Burke was a remarkable woman who leaves a legacy of accomplishment that shaped the city that is Winston-Salem today.  Her death leaves a void in our civic life that cannot be easily filled, and on behalf of all city employees and the citizens of Winston-Salem, I extend to her family my deepest sympathies.”

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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