Who Is Thomas Starr King and Why Doesn’t He Seem Happy?

Thomas Starr KingAs the pedestal says on the attached modern day photo, what’s pictured is a statue of Thomas Starr King, a famous abolitionist from the Civil War.

A gifted orator and zealous churchman, Starr King left the East Coast in 1860 to head the First Unitarian Church in San Francisco.

He raised $1.5 million for the national Sanitary Commission, predecessor of the American Red Cross, which treated wounded soldiers. Overtaxed by his busy lecture circuit, Starr King died in San Francisco in 1864 of diptheria. He was 40.

According to the Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biography, Starr King described Christianity “not as a creed or an institution but as a spirit, a “secret agency” or force underlying many specific outward expressions. He thought that God’s spirit was to be found both inside and outside the church, in works of secular art and in private lives. He found more unity and truth in shared public expression than in the speculation of dogma and theology.”

In 1913, Starr King was judged one of California’s two greatest heroes and money was raised to cast a bronze statute of him that would stand in the National Statuary Hall Collection of the U.S. Capitol.

It took some time: Starr King’s statue was donated to the hall in 1931.

Seventy-five years later, the state Legislature approved — with only one dissenting vote — Senate Joint Resolution 3 to bounce Starr King’s statue from the National Statuary Hall and replace it with one of Ronald Reagan.

The resolution was authored by Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth, a Murietta Republican, who admitted to the San Francisco Chronicle that he didn’t know who Starr King was, adding “I think there’s probably a lot of Californians like me.”

Hollingsworth told the Chronicle that Starr King also wasn’t born in California although that criteria was not applied to Reagan, who was born in Illinois, and the other statue California has in the national hall — Father Junipero Serra, born in Majorca Spain.

The only “no” vote on the resolution came from then Sen. Debra Bowen, now the Secretary of State. She did, in fact, know who Starr King was.

In November 2009, Starr King’s statute was placed in Capitol Park’s Civil War Memorial Grove.

It’s doubtful an orange, no matter how colorful an addition, would be placed in his hand were his statue still in the national hall.

The indignity of pigeons is best left unspoken.


Filed under: California History

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