December 9, 2020 – Gold Mining Genius: A Life of George W. Starr, a new book by historian Gage McKinney, tells the story of a prominent gold miner and along the way reveals the relationship between labor relations and racism in the Nevada County gold mines.

In the book, McKinney describes the role played by Empire mine managing director George Starr during mining strikes in the early 20th century. McKinney details the conflicts between owners and workers and how each side accommodated the other in the interest of maintaining production. Both sides tacitly agreed that Chinese and African Americans wouldn’t work underground.

McKinney describes the experience of the Chinese in mining and construction, and explains how black miners worked certain local mines in the early years of industrialization. Later this experience counted for nothing. As a consequence of their exclusion from industrial mines, the Chinese and blacks sought other work and a once-thriving black community in Grass Valley disappeared.

The book primarily describes the life of George Starr (1862 – 1940), who was orphaned at 11 after his father abandoned him and his mother died. After starting as a mucker, he rose to manage the Empire mine, owned by his wealthy cousin, William Bourn. During one period, Starr also managed a multi-racial workforce in the South Africa gold fields, including thousands of African miners. It was his success there and in Grass Valley which led others to call him “a gold mining genius.”

Gold Mining Genius is available at The Book Seller, Grass Valley, The Harmony Book Shop, Nevada City, Empire Mine SHP, and on-line at Amazon or