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Weekly 150: David A. Burkhalter

Mayor, Jurist, Editor

By Jason R. Martin
Posted 1/26/21

David Alexander Burkhalter was born August 21, 1880, to Thomas (1853–1880) and Alice Thomas Burkhalter (1857–1883). He graduated from Bethel College in 1898 and received his law degree …

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Weekly 150: David A. Burkhalter

Mayor, Jurist, Editor


David Alexander Burkhalter was born August 21, 1880, to Thomas (1853–1880) and Alice Thomas Burkhalter (1857–1883). He graduated from Bethel College in 1898 and received his law degree from Cumberland University, Lebanon, Tennessee, before he was 21 years old.

He was 21 when he was elected Mayor of McKenzie and held the office for several terms. For one term he was a floterial representative from the 22nd District, representing Carroll, Henry and Weakly counties (the floterial district is a legislative district that includes several separate districts that independently would not be entitled to additional representation, but whose combined population entitles the area to another seat in the legislative body).

In 1918, he was elected state senator for the 24th District. He was the editor of The McKenzie Banner for many years and was an elder of the Presbyterian Church for 27 years.

Burkhalter was elected Judge of Carroll County in 1926, the first Democrat to hold the office in the county. He held the position until he died in 1932.

Judge Burkhalter was a descendant of the Stephens-Scott family, one of the oldest families in Carroll County. His parents died when he was an infant. He lived with his grandfather, David Stephens, for several years then moved into the home of his great uncle and aunt, Neely and India Scott on the corner of McTyeire and West End. Neely Scott was a pharmacist in McKenzie.

There were five children in the Stephens family; Henry, James, William, Molly and Alice. Very little is known of the Burkhalter family. They originated in Germany and settled in Mississippi. Thomas came to McKenzie to attend Bethel College and married Alice Stephens.

In 1903, David married Mamie Mays (1880–1971), whose father was a McKenzie merchant. The Mays home was on Nation Hill (Forrest Ave). In the latter portion of the 19th-century, area youth would sled down what was known as Mays Hill and came inside to warm themselves by the fire in the Mays home. Mrs. Mays would feed them cracked hickory nuts and black walnuts, occasionally she provided tea cakes and cucumber pickles.

Known as “Pa and Gram” Mays, David Ann (1853–1935) and Margaret Delilah “Maggie” Ownby Mays (1854–1939) were known for their kindness. They had a second daughter, Nona Mays Bumpass (1877–1972), who in 1969 attended an alumni luncheon at Bethel College as the oldest living graduate.

Taken from Maggie’s obituary, “For more than a generation the Mays home on “Nation Hill” was the home of many ministerial students in Bethel College who needed help to fit themselves for larger service. Their parental tenderness won them the title of ‘Pa’ and ‘Ma’ Mays, and but for their helpful advice many a struggler might have lost his fight.”

David and Mamie had four children: Mary Alice Burkhalter (1904–1987), Margaret Scott Burkhalter Marshall (1907–1996), David Alexander Burkhalter (1912–1996), William Mays Burkhalter (1914–1985).

In 1932, David died from a heart attack at age 51. He was buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery. In 1970, at age 90, Mamie was laid to rest next to him.

A unique point of interest comes from the biography of Williams Mays Burkhalter. The youngest of the Burkhalter children was the assistant chief title office for TVA’s Land Acquisition Department from 1939 to 1942. He practiced law with the firm of Brown, Lund and Fitzgerald from 1946 to 1961, specializing in government contract law and securities.

From 1961 to 1962, he was temporarily assigned to the Office of Emergency Planning, Executive Office of the President, working on defense and economic mobilization problems. In 1962, he was appointed a member of the Renegotiation Board. He served as a member until 1969 at which time he was appointed Deputy General Counsel of the Renegotiation Board.

The Renegotiation Board was established as a response to the Korean War. It was tasked as the government’s watchdog against “excessive” profits on defense and space contracts. It reviewed or “renegotiated” government contracts when the work was completed and took back some of the contractor’s profit if it concluded too much had been earned.


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