John Paul Starks, African-American educator, financier, fraternity member, and active church member, was born on September 14, 1865, in Brandenburg, Kentucky, to Frederick and Mary Starks. He was the youngest of seven children. At a young age Starks and his family moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where he completed public schooling. At the age of eighteen, Starks moved to Dallas with the family of Mrs. Jules Schneider (one of the early prominent business families of Dallas). Once in Dallas he joined the African Methodist Episcopal Church and divided his time between Bethel and St. James congregations. While attending St. James he courted the organist, Sally Ewell, whom he married on December 24, 1891. The couple had two sons (C. F. and F. E. Starks) and one daughter (Marie). Starks eventually served as superintendent of St. James Sunday school.
Starks had notable involvement in African-American public education. He began teaching in the Dallas public schools in September 1883 and instructed there until he retired on December 12, 1922. In 1895 Starks became principal of Colored Elementary No.4, renamed Fredrick Douglass Elementary in 1902. He promised to improve standards at the elementary school and build another high school that would match any in the South. In 1924 Fredrick Douglass Elementary, having previously been restructured with brick, was renamed J. P. Starks Elementary. (This building was closed in 1964 and torn down in 1972. The new J. P. Starks Elementary School opened in 1986 at 3033 Tips Blvd. in Oak Cliff.) In 1922 Starks’s (and others’) efforts culminated with the opening of the new Booker T. Washington High School on Flora Street.
Starks also stood out in the Dallas business community. In 1900 he cofounded the People's Undertaking Company, one of the first black corporations in Texas. Starks also formed the Dallas Express Corporation (rescuing the Dallas Express newspaper from collapse) with Charles Brackins, Dr. R. T. Hamilton, Miss F. B. Harris, Miss E. M. Weems, and Dr. A. H. Dyson as incorporators in 1914. Starks served as the president-manager of the corporation. The Express paid stockholders several dividends, paid its debts, and was able to reinvest in new machinery. Starks was replaced by his son, C. F. Starks, in 1923.
Starks served as executive committee chair of the National Negro Business League (Dallas branch), which published the Business and Professional Directory of Colored Persons in Dallas. During World War I, he headed Red Cross drives, Liberty Loan drives, the War Camp Community service, and YMCA activities.
Due to lingering illness, Starks retired on December 12, 1922, and, under the care of Dr. Horace W. Conrad, moved to Guthrie, Oklahoma. He died there on Saturday, February 24, 1923. Four days later, Starks’ body was returned to St James A.M.E. Temple in Dallas for a memorial service attended by thousands. In a procession lasting two hours, more than 2,500 viewed Starks’s remains. Dallas African-American schools, the Dallas Express publishing company, and the People’s Undertaking Company of Dallas and Fort Worth were all closed to allow individuals to attend the service. The standing-room-only funeral left hundreds outside the church, while Dallas elites such as ex-mayor Frank Wozencraft; A.V. Lane, vice president of the American Exchange National Bank; and J. L. Long, former superintendent of Dallas public schools, engaged in the proceedings.
Starks Avenue in South Dallas and J. P. Starks Elementary School are named for this pioneer of black education.