Maggie Fulleylove Starks, founder and owner of Starks Funeral Home in San Angelo, Texas, daughter of William and Laura (McClarron) Fulleylove, was born in Calvert, Texas, on October 18, 1896. Starks was one of twelve children. She received a degree to teach music from Paul Quinn College in Waco, and while in the city, she met Reverend Archie “A. R.” Robinson Starks. They married on February 18, 1914. That same year the couple moved to San Angelo in order for A.R. to pastor the Saint Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Maggie Starks noticed the great lack of care for the Black community in regards to funeral arrangements. While both of the earliest funeral homes, Charles Robinson and Robert Massie, served the African American community, the attention to Blacks proved lacking in comparison with that given to Whites. The records often failed to provide important details, and if the family was unable to pay for care of the body, which frequently happened, the service was subpar. Starks set out to make a difference and began going door to door to take up collections for those who did not have the funds for proper services. She even assisted in preparing bodies for burial. However, four years later, the church transferred Reverend Starks to San Marcos.
After relocating several times, the couple found themselves once again in Waco and with a baby daughter, Hazel. Following the death of her husband in 1925, Starks moved back to San Angelo. She later recalled, “I didn’t care to teach school. That’s all a Black woman could do back then. I had a child; I wanted to be with her all the time. It just sprung to my mind to come back to San Angelo and go into the undertaking business.” She founded her business in 1927.
Starks’s decision greatly affected the African American community in the city. With a $4,000 life insurance policy from her husband, she purchased land at the corner of Fifth and Farr streets. She partnered with B. and Sylvia Dodd and established Dodd and Starks Funeral Home. Not only did she open the first African American funeral home in San Angelo, she also played a large managerial role in the operation of the Black community’s only cemetery, Pleasant View.
Located within the grounds of the segregated Fairmount Cemetery, Pleasant View started in 1903. The relationship between the two ruling bodies lacked cordiality, and the Fairmount Board disapproved often of the appearance and upkeep of the African American cemetery. When Starks took a leadership role in Pleasant View’s association, she often held meetings at Dodd and Starks. With her oversight, the relationship between Pleasant View and Fairmount improved. In a 1989 interview she recalled, “For the last twenty-five years Fairmount has dug our graves…I’ve had the finest relationship with Fairmount Cemetery.”
From 1927 to 1931 Dodd and Starks operated at the Fifth Street location. In 1931 Starks bought out the Dodds; she moved the business and changed the name to Starks Funeral Home. Against overwhelming odds, as a single, Black mother, Starks started a business, bought land, created a second Black cemetery (Delta Memorial Park Cemetery), and took care of a neglected community—all during the Great Depression. Her success was quite unusual for not only a Black woman in the Depression but for women in general. African American women mostly worked in the domestic sphere as maids. When the Depression hit the United States in 1929, women of all races searched for employment. Starks also inspired other African Americans in the community and surrounding area. Bobbye L. Williams, a San Angelo resident at that time, said in an interview that Starks never let money get in the way of helping an individual. Regardless of the financial circumstances, she treated everyone with dignity and helped any family that brought a loved one to her. In fact, Williams said Starks taught her how to respect the dead. In 1952 Starks, receiving no financial compensation, helped a family in Abilene start their own funeral home—Curtis-Starks.
In 1955, one year after the Brown vs Board of Education Supreme Court decision, the San Angelo Independent School District desegregated. Once San Angelo schools integrated, public places followed suit, including the cemeteries and funeral homes. With the establishment of Starks Funeral Home, burials by other undertakers were discouraged due to segregation; however, integration made it illegal to refuse services on the basis of race. Starks recalled when the first Black person was embalmed at Johnson’s Funeral Home. The director apologetically called her and said, “Maggie, I hate to do this, but if we refuse, we could be sued.” Robert Massie Funeral Home called her as well. She responded, “The Blacks put me where I am today… I said, ‘You go on and bury them; I will make it.” Starks Funeral Home continued to run smoothly under her management. She recalled that if she ever needed an embalmer or someone to dig graves, Johnson’s and Massie gladly assisted her.
For her contributions to the African American community Starks received several honors, including the 1982 Rosary, Reading and Art Club Community Service Award, Black Texans Historical Society Certificate of Recognition of Service to the African American Services in 1990, and a Certificate of Appreciation for Devoted and Invaluable Services to the Community by the Minister’s Wives Alliance in 1990. She was an active member at Greater St. Paul A.M.E. Church and took part in the choir and pageants. Maggie Fulleylove Starks died at the age of ninety-five on March 7, 1992, in San Angelo. She was buried in Lawnhaven Memorial Gardens in San Angelo.