Tampa Theatre

Public Art In Private Development - Saga Of St. Benedict

With the reconstruction of Interstate 4 (I-4), not only has the roadway been greatly improved but the adjacent community also benefited. Many historic cigar workers' homes have been moved and saved in an area in need of revitalization. North of I-4, primarily between 20th and 17th Streets, 26 historic homes have been relocated and rehabilitated by the Federal Highway Administration and the Florida Department of Transportation, in cooperation with the City of Tampa. This project showcases how historic preservation can revitalize neighborhoods and the effects are readily seen in the private investment that has resulted in the surrounding area.

Explore the Project

  • Watch the video on St. Benedicts, featured on CTTV's Spotlight Tampa, to learn more about the partnership among the city of Tampa, Historic Preservation and Department of Transportation.

  • Download the Education Sheet on the Project
  • Read the Plaque that is onsite
  • Read the poem that is engraved in granite by James E. Tokley, Sr.

On this quiet, hallowed ground
In this space, where now, you stand,
A band of angels once was found
Who dared reach out to tiny hands.

A convent school was started, here
And where you sand, the front door swung
To greet God's children, without fear,
To educate the poor and young.

Brave Sisters of the Sacrament
So blameless in their sacred vows.
In the name of black St. Benedict,
Begat a school where we stand now.

And they, who nursed it with the milk
Of kindness, flowing from their souls,
Fed young minds, whose hopes may wilt
From a curse that held them, fast and cold.

For, theirs' was a world of the color line,
Where the color of a person's mind
Was second-guessed and pushed to the back,
If the color of their skin was brown or black!

Thus, Benedict School was a fortress made
To house young hearts of every shade
Against the laws of local blight,
Who only welcomed what was white!

Please read, as you continue walking,
More about the sacred building
Founded on Columbus Drive,
That kept black children's dreams alive!

Come see with me, their youthful eyes
So full with wonder and surprise!
They gathered here, where now you stand.
Do you doubt that this is holy land?

Do you marvel at the teacher's hands...
Expressive hands, turned white with chalk
On blackboards, writing, swift and bland,
The answers to a learne'd walk?

Eight city lots were given them,
Whose hope was they could work to bring
A church, a school, a home wherein
Young voices could be taught to sing!

In Ybor City, where you walk
Around this block and stop to talk,
Remember, not so long ago,
Black children's hopes were measured low.

The convent walls no longer stand.
Few pictures tell us how they looked
Nor how the rooms and halls were planned.
No anecdotes in history books.

And yet, I do believe I see
These valiant women, full with dreams
Who wore their lives with dignity
And brought new life, new life it seems!

They nurtured hope, where none had been
Where black was not the color of men
Where women, made of darker skin,
Could run no race that they could win!

Arrested elsewhere, though they were,
St. Katherine's mercy stayed with them
Through flames that seemed to re-occur
And a funding loss that would not end.

They taught no more than thirty-strong,
Those first uncertain convent days,
Both homilies and freedom songs
Both "A,B,C's" and gospel ways!

Young Stepin Fetchit, Hollywood's host,
Learned here, about the Holy Ghost!
And here perhaps, though sight unseen,
Played little butterfly McQueen!

And so, in 1952
Through all its trials and wistful years,
St. Benedict Moor, a convent school
Padlocked its doors, and pack its tears!

Now stands beside us, the unseen
Since 1903, it has stood,
Yet, now, its presence is in dream
A ghost of that which once was good!

Kind stranger, just before you leave,
In silence, would you pray, or grieve
Remembering what was once a school
That taught God's lambs the golden rule!

Updated: 12/01/2020