Neglected Aspects of Starr King’s Life and Work

Neglected Aspects of Starr King’s Life and Work

In 2006, Unitarian minister Thomas Starr King’s statue in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall was removed by vote of the California legislature and the approval of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and replaced by a statue of Ronald Reagan. Each State gets two statues. California’s other honoree was and still is Father Junipero Serra a builder of missions in Spanish California.

There has been a movement in California to banish Father Serra too, on account of his enslavement and mistreatment of native peoples, not much different from the treatment employed by the Conquistadores in Mexico and Peru, and many other parts of the Americas. It is recognition of this mistreatment that has us banishing Christopher Columbus and replacing his holiday with an honoring on the second Monday of October, of Indigenous Peoples. Starr King was honored with a statue because his oratory and persistence in the first years of our Civil War did the most to keep California in the Union, and not secede, and not join the Confederacy. President Lincoln said so.

One of the three UU seminaries is named the Thomas Starr King School for the Ministry, within Berkeley’s Graduate Theological Union. Dan Brosier, UUCE Minister Emeritus, is a Starr King graduate. It had a reputation for being more Humanist and self-examining, and ‘West Coast’ than Harvard Divinity or Meadville-Lombard, in Chicago.

Starr King School conducted an online seminar this past Wednesday on the subject of the ‘neglected aspects of Starr King’s life and work.’  And what was neglected was his creation and nurture of a Parisian-style salon of writers and artists, explorers, and captains of industry. Mark Twain was there, and Bret Harte, and Carlton E. Watkins, nature photographer and precursor of Ansel Adams. These were the years when San Francisco was, until 1920, more important than Los Angeles. John Muir was the right age, and in the right place, doing the right work, to have been part of that society. People want it to be true, but proof has not been found yet.

Starr King traveled up to Oregon and helped found Portland’s large First Unitarian Church. He preached what was described as ‘the first liberal sermon in the Pacific Northwest.’  He continued north, all the way to Victoria, B.C. to thank a congregation of Black People and other People of Color there who donated a surprisingly large sum to the Union anti-slavery cause. By this and other such exertions Starr King, a diminutive man, wore himself out, and died of pneumonia at age 39.

— Rev. Leland Bond – Upson

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