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Featured Beach: Burkes Beach

Story by Luana M. Graves Sellars + Photo by Maddie Terry

Burke Family - Hilton Head
Several generations of the Burke family are shown during a family reunion on Hilton Head Island.

As traffic flows down Highway 278 on Hilton Head, one can’t help but notice the street names that pop up along the way. Most of the streets, particularly on the north end of the island, trace back to their Gullah namesake; whether an individual or a family.

That’s especially true as you drive mid-island. Each beach not only has a history, but a Gullah family with several generations behind its name. Hilton Head’s Burkes Beach is no different.

Prior to the bridge, around 60 acres of beachfront property was owned by brothers James and Henry Ford, and Henry’s wife, Nancy Burke Ford. It stretched from the ocean to Highway 278 and through Chaplin Park. Held by the family for generations, the land was eventually divided up into lots between their nieces and nephews as well as portions sold to the town.

Today, Hilton Head is well known for its beaches that run along the east coast of the island. However, in the 1950s when segregation was at its peak, there weren’t a lot of places along the coast where blacks were allowed to go to the beach. Most of the island’s waterfront became a destination for local Gullah and blacks who came to the island by the busload from Savannah and surrounding areas.

Burkes Beach was made famous by The Hideaway, a local juke joint that opened daily to families who were looking for good music and food. Betty Burke Days remembers, “We didn’t know who they were, but they came back every year. Everyone who came got served.”

People “partied all day and night on the beach and went from one pavilion (on the beach) to another, depending on which one was jumping,” says Days. “It was a place to take the whole family until it was time for the children to go home.”

Derived from the Gullah word, “joog,” which means disorderly, juke joints became a common source of daily adult entertainment on the island. The first Hideaway was a small pavilion that was run by Daniel and James Burke. Eventually, the pavilion was moved to a street that was once called Hideaway after the popular location.

Accurately described in detail in the book “Gullah Cultural Legacies,” by Dr. Emory S. Campbell, Burkes Hideaway was on the site of the present day Surfside Marriott. “(It) was a long concrete block building tucked away in a grove of sea pines fronting a marsh flat that extended to the dunes of the beach. Its long dance floor was perfectly suited for the “Continental” a 1960s line dance similar to today’s “electric slide.”

About the Beach

Located at the end of Burkes Beach Road, this popular mid-island beach is perfect for active residents. There are only 13 metered spaces in the parking lot, but plenty of parking is available at nearby Chaplain Community Park. The park also offers plenty of paved trails for bike riding, open fields for sports and kites, basketball courts, tennis courts and a nice dog park. It’s a great family friendly stop before or after your beach day.

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