James R. Starkey

Advertisements searching for Alexander Starkey and his arrival to San Francisco.

Top advertisment from the Elevator dated January 26, 1866, shows James R. Starkey searching for his son after Emancipation.  The bottom advertisment from the Elevator dated September 20, 1867 annouced the success of the search and the arrival of Starkey's son Alexander in San Francisco. Image from California Digital Newspaper Collection, Center for Bibliographic Studies and Research, University of California, Riverside, <http://cdnc.ucr.edu>, accessed on April 16, 2016.

James R. Starkey's leadership at the 1855 First State Convention of the Colored Citizens in Sacramento became apparent in his appointment to both the Committee to nominate officers for the Convention and the Committee on Statistics.[1]  Starkey was born into slavery in North Carolina, where he eventually purchased his freedom and left his home state.[2]  Starkey negotiated with his slave owner for a price of $800[3] to buy his freedom.  He had already saved some money from his profession as a barber, and being resourceful, he wrote a letter to Rev. William McLain, of the American Colonization Society (ACS), asking for the remaining funds as a loan to secure his freedom.[4]  Letters to McLain show that Starkey had intentions to go to Liberia through the ACS,[5] however Starkey never made it to Africa.  Starkey left North Carolina in 1848, where he moved to New York briefly before traveling to San Francisco.[6]

Starkey traveled from New York to San Francisco via the steam ship Pocahontas.[7]  He wrote a letter to the Frederick Douglass’ Paper telling of his trip via Greytown in San Juan de Nicaragua.[8] He voiced his shock and dismay over the injustices Black people endured in Greytown due to American racism: “It is very strange that our people will suffer themselves to be carried away by this ‘American character’ even here, in a country like this, whose king is a colored man, and the police officers colored men.”[9]

Starkey arrived in San Francisco around 1853,[10] where he set up shop and continued his profession as a barber.[11]  Once in San Francisco, Starkey quickly became a leader and institution builder in the Black community.  He helped establish the San Francisco Athenaeum Association, a Temperance Association, [12]  and the San Francisco Literary Institute.[13] He served as master of the San Francisco Hannibal Lodge No. 1 in 1863.[14]  Starkey also sat on the publishing committee of The Elevator, its motto “Equality before the Law,” from its inception in 1855.[15] Starkey sat on the Executive Committee at the 1865 State Convention of Colored Citizens.[16]

Starkey used his writing and skills to challenge newspapers such as the Morning Call as to why it continued to write “low attacks upon colored people.”[17] He kept in contact with the eastern US papers through his letters to the Frederick Douglass’ Paper keeping the larger Black community aware of the struggles and strides made in California.

After Emancipation, Starkey placed advertisements in The Elevator searching for his son Alexander Starkey, who had been sold through the Richmond slave market in 1854.[18]  In September 1867, The Elevator announced the arrival of Starkey's son to San Francisco by steamer from New York.[19]  James Starkey died suddenly in 1870, his obituary in The Elevator, wrote of his constant commitment to uplift the conditions of Black people and his many civic engagements throughout San Francisco.[20]


[20] N.A. “Obituary,” The Elevator, June 17, 1870

Written by Tina Delany. Taught by Sharla Fett, History 213, Occidental College, Spring 2016.