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Tampa in Hillsborough County, Florida — The American South (South Atlantic)
 

St. Benedict the Moor School

 
 
St. Benedict the Moor School Marker image. Click for full size.
By Fr. Len Plazewski, November 10, 2010
1. St. Benedict the Moor School Marker
Inscription. Located on this site was the former St. Benedict the Moor School, a Catholic school for black children that was one of the most important buildings associated with black history in Tampa. The property was purchased for $600 on March 15, 1900. The school, a two-story brick building, was completed several years after the acquisition of the property. It housed four classrooms and an auditorium that also served as a chapel. St. Benedict was built under the vision of Bishop Augustin Verot, who in 1858 was given jurisdiction of Catholic parishes in Georgia and Florida. In 1866, Bishop Verot used his authority to bring the Sisters of St. Joseph from Le Puy-en Valey, France to St. Augustine to establish schools dedicated to the spiritual enrichment and education of ex-slaves. Over the next several decades, they established schools throughout Florida. By 1903, they opened the St. Benedict School in Tampa. The School matriculated 30 children during the 1904-1905 school year. St. Benedict’s students were mostly Afro-Cuban children of workers in Ybor City and West Tampa cigar factories. In an era governed by racial segregation, the noble goal of educating black children was hindered by a 1913 law passed by the Florida legislature entitled “An Act Prohibiting White Persons from Teaching Negroes in Negro Schools.” Defiantly, the Sisters
St. Benedict the Moor School Marker (with poem in sidewalk) image. Click for full size.
By Fr. Len Plazewski, November 10, 2010
2. St. Benedict the Moor School Marker (with poem in sidewalk)
of St. Joseph throughout the state challenged this law and continued to teach black students. In April of 1916, three sisters were arrested in St. Augustine for teaching African-American children. Following the arrest, St. Benedict’s in Tampa temporarily closed. On May 20, 1916, a judge ruled that the 1913 law only applied to public schools, and the sisters had not violated the law by educating black students in a private school. Although understaffed, under equipped, and crowded, the Sisters of St. Joseph met their calling in the face of adversity and continued teaching until 1944, when the administration of the St. Benedict School in Tampa was transferred to the Allegany Franciscans who led the school for another eight years. St. Benedict’s closed in 1952 when it was severely damaged by fire. The school building fell into ruins over time and was demolished in 2001. The plaque stands in recognition of the vital role St. Benedict the Moor School and the Sisters of St. Joseph played in the education and enhancement of Tampa’s black community for almost 50 years.
 
Location. 27° 57.987′ N, 82° 26.209′ W. Marker is in Tampa, Florida, in Hillsborough County. Marker is on N. 20th Street, on the left when traveling north. Touch for map. It is located about a half block south of Columbus Avenue on
St. Benedict the Moor School Marker (with poem in sidewalk) image. Click for full size.
By Fr. Len Plazewski, November 10, 2010
3. St. Benedict the Moor School Marker (with poem in sidewalk)
N. 20th Street in the northern part of Ybor City. Marker is in this post office area: Tampa FL 33605, United States of America.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Our Lady of Perpetual Help (approx. 0.3 miles away); Florida Sentinel Bulletin (approx. 0.3 miles away); La Joven Francesa Bakery (approx. 0.3 miles away); Ybor Centennial Park (approx. 0.3 miles away); Historic Fire Station No. 4 (approx. 0.4 miles away); Mayor Nick C. Nuccio (approx. 0.4 miles away); Anthony P. "Tony" Pizzo (approx. 0.4 miles away); Anthony P. Pizzo (approx. 0.4 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Tampa.
 
Regarding St. Benedict the Moor School. Engraved on the sidewalk is the following poem:

The Saga of St. Benedict School
By James E. Tokley, Sr.
Tampa Poet Laureate
I
On this quiet, hallowed ground
In this space, where now, you stand,
A hand of angels once was found
Who dared reach out to tiny hands,
II
A convent school was started here
And where you stand, the front door swung
To greet God’s children, without fear,
To educate the poor and young.
III
Brave Sisters of the sacrament
So blameless in their sacred vows
In name of black St. Benedict,
Begat a school
The Saga of St. Benedict School (engraved in sidewalk) image. Click for full size.
By Fr. Len Plazewski, November 10, 2010
4. The Saga of St. Benedict School (engraved in sidewalk)
where we stand now.
IV
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.
V
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!
VI
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!
VII
Please read as you continue walking,
More about the sacred building
Founded on Columbus Drive,
That kept black children’s dreams alive!
VIII
Come see with me, their youthful eves
So full with wonder and surprise!
They gathered here, where now you stand.
Do you doubt that this is holy land?
IX
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?
X
Eight city lots were purchased,
Whose hope was they could work to bring
A church, a home wherein
Young voices could be taught to sing!
XI
In Ybor City, where you walk
Around this block and stop and talk
Remember, not long ago,
Black children’s hopes were measured low!
XII
The
Portion of Poem "The Saga of St. Benedict the Moor School" (engraved in sidewalk) image. Click for full size.
By Fr. Len Plazewski, November 10, 2010
5. Portion of Poem "The Saga of St. Benedict the Moor School" (engraved in sidewalk)
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.
XIII
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!
XIV
They nurtured hope where none had been
Where black was not the color of men
Where women made of the darkest skin,
Could run no race that they could win!
XV
Arrested elsewhere, though they were
St. Katherine’s mercy stayed with them
Though flames that seemed to re-occur
And a funding loss that would not end,
XVI
They taught no more than thirty-strong
Those first uncertain days,
Both homilies and freedom songs
Both “A,B,C’s” and gospel ways!
XVII
Young Stepin Fetchit, Hollywood’s host,
Learned here about the Holy Ghost,
And here perhaps, though sight unseen,
Played little Butterfly McQueen!
XVIII
And so in 1952
Through all its trials and wistful years,
St. Benedict Moor, a convent school
Padlocked its doors and packed its tears!
XIX
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!
XX
Kind stranger, just before you leave.
In silence, would you pray or grieve
Remembering what was once a school
 
Categories. African AmericansChurches, Etc.Civil RightsEducation
 
 
Credits. This page was last revised on August 19, 2017. This page originally submitted on November 11, 2010, by Fr. Len Plazewski of Tampa, Florida. This page has been viewed 1,267 times since then and 95 times this year. This page was the Marker of the Week May 22, 2011. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5. submitted on November 11, 2010, by Fr. Len Plazewski of Tampa, Florida. • Bill Pfingsten was the editor who published this page.
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