Thomas Starr King
We named our church to honor Thomas Starr King (December 17, 1824 – March 4, 1864), a California Unitarian Universalist hero sometimes known as “the orator who saved the nation.”
During the Civil War, he played a pivotal role. Despite life-long poor health, he tirelessly campaigned throughout the state of California, speaking zealously for the preservation of the Union and against slavery. The Union Army commander-in-chief, General Winfield Scott, said Starr King “saved California to the Union.”
Of himself, he said, “But, though I weigh only 120 pounds, when I am mad I weigh a ton!”
Starr King was both a Universalist minister and a Unitarian minister, long before the two churches joined. He described the difference between Unitarians and Universalists this way: “Universalists believe that God is too good to damn people, and the Unitarians believe that people are too good to be damned by God.”
He came to California when he was 36 to serve as the preaching minister of the First Unitarian Society of San Francisco. He built up that parish and founded many other liberal churches along the West Coast. He raised startling sums of money for the Sanitary Commission, which was the precursor to the Red Cross. The money was used to help refugees from the war find safety in California.
Reverend King died shortly after his major oratory efforts, and is interred at the First Unitarian Church of San Francisco between Starr King and Geary Streets. When, in the 1940s, most of San Francisco’s dead were disinterred and moved to new resting places outside city limits, the grave of Starr King was one of the very few allowed to remain undisturbed.
Mountains are named for him both in New Hampshire and in his beloved Yosemite. In 1941 the Starr King School for the Ministry (Unitarian Universalist), in Berkeley, California, was renamed in his honor. One statue of him is displayed in Golden Gate Park, and another on the grounds of the California State Capitol.