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Pasco Tribune

Statue marks milestone at Saint Leo University, school's first black student

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Published:   |   Updated: March 13, 2013 at 10:20 AM
ST. LEO -

Artist Steven Dickey encountered a slight problem when Saint Leo University commissioned him to create a sculpture of Rudolph Antorcha, the college's first black student.

No one could provide a photograph of Antorcha, who attended the university more than a century ago.

So instead of specific facial features, Dickey focused on the spirit of that moment in 1898 when the Benedictine monks who founded Saint Leo admitted Antorcha as a student even though state law declared it illegal to educate blacks and whites together.

Dickey tried to imagine what it must have been like for a young black man to arrive on the campus in the late 19th century, knowing that his very presence defied government edicts that dictated the relationship between the races.

"There would have been a sense of trepidation," Dickey said.

The university commemorated the historic event Monday with a dedication ceremony for Dickey's sculpture, titled "A Spirit of Belonging," which symbolizes the decision to knock down the walls of segregation at Saint Leo.

Not that those walls had been in place all that long. The university opened just eight years before Antorcha became part of the fledgling campus's history.

"Our Benedictine monks made a courageous yet just choice," Arthur Kirk Jr., president of the university, said during Monday's dedication, which was part of Saint Leo's observation of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The bronze sculpture depicts two figures, Antorcha and a monk. Antorcha, wearing a bow tie and carrying books, is taking a step forward. The monk, his arms wide, offers a welcoming greeting.

The figures stand atop a pedestal with embedded lighting that will illuminate the sculpture at night. The sculpture is the centerpiece for a walkway between two new dormitories.

Dickey, the Tampa artist who created the sculpture, has an extensive body of work, with sculptures in numerous Florida cities, including Tampa, Sarasota, Tarpon Springs, Safety Harbor, Fort Lauderdale and many others.

Kirk said that for years he has shared Antorcha's story with people and is happy the campus has the sculpture to symbolize the moment.

" 'A Spirit of Belonging' is splendid, and we are going to cherish it," Kirk said.


rblair@tampatrib.com (813) 371-1853 Twitter: @RBlairTBO
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