Last updated: July 28, 2020
Bessie Bruington Burke is an American Hero. She was the first African American teacher and principal hired in the Los Angeles public school system. Burke held influential, powerful, and redeeming responsibilities for over 40 years in California.
Burke was born on March 19, 1891 in Los Angeles. In 1887, her parents left their farms and teaching jobs in Kansas via a covered wagon. They settled in what is now North Hollywood. Burke attended Berendo Elementary School; Polytechnic High School; and the Los Angeles State Normal School (LANS). The normal school is now apart of the University of California, Los Angeles. Burke graduated seventh in a class of 800 from LANS. By 1911, Burke had received her teaching credentials and became the first black teacher in the Los Angeles Public School System.
Burke began teaching at Holmes Elementary School and became the first black principal in L.A. in 1918. In 1938, she became a principal at Nevin Avenue School, making her the first black principal to head a racially integrated school.
She retired from the Los Angeles Board of Education in 1955, and passed away in 1968. Burke is remembered as a distinguished humanitarian and well-respected educator and administrator. She served in a number of civic organizations including, the YWCA, Native California club, and the NAACP. Burke was also a member of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
Bessie Burke is associated with the Historic Resources Associated with African Americans in Los Angeles Multi-Property Submission (MPS). It was approved and listed on the National Register of Historic Places on March 17, 2009.