Thomas Burke – Character in Divide the Dawn
“Harry looks down toward the parlor where the Burke boy stares and groans, his mother speaking to him in warm, sweet tones even as we can see her cold breath in the room. She rubs her hand up and down his arm to keep the cold off him, then looks toward Harry and I.”
Thomas Burke (b. 1893) known simply as Burke, is small of stature, but has a large family. Having stumbled into the White Hand gang and the Brooklyn underworld, he is apprehensive and nervous about their shadowy, often violent dealings. Living in a rundown building by Prospect Park, Burke had terrible difficulties finding regular work to feed and shelter his wife and four children. His eldest son, stricken with what is deemed “The Palsy” in Irishtown (Multiple Sclerosis), is in need of serious medical treatment. Wanting to help, two White Hand gang members offer him a job as a longshoremen. Even though he is not strong enough for the type of physical demands required to unload ships, he is eager to work and his wife becomes friends with a gang member’s family, securing his position. Burke wants no part of the violence the gang is involved in, but he is in too deep now.
What you need to know before starting DIVIDE THE DAWN: As Harry Reynolds and Liam Garrity fix up a dilapidated room in anticipation of Garrity’s mother and sisters’ arrival from Ireland, they notice an eight year-old child strapped to a chair, which is strapped to a wall. Later they notice the chair and table are missing. Burke tells Reynolds and Garrity that due to the severe coal shortage in Brooklyn, they burned the table and chairs in the fireplace during a freezing night. Hearing this, Reynolds offers Burke a chance to work on the docks and proves himself loyal and hard-working. As tenement neighbors, the Burke and Garrity families become close. When several gang members are jailed and Liam is forced into being a dockboss, Burke watches fearfully as Garrity and others beat immigrants who challenge them. With a gang war looming, he feels trapped.