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Recognizing the Latino artist behind San Antonio’s MLK statue

By Lorraine Pantoja
La Prensa San Antonio

SAN ANTONIO — This Monday, San Antonio will host what is considered by many to be the biggest Martin Luther King Jr. march in the country.

For over 25 years, people from all walks of life have gathered at the MLK Freedom Bridge and walked to Pittman- Sullivan Park. At one point in the three-mile march, there is a sight to see: an eight-foot statue of the beloved civil rights leader. Since it’s unveiling in 1981, the statue has served as a refresher on Dr. King’s lessons to humanity.

Dr. Jose A Torres, “Jacosta” is stands beside his creation. He was asked by Rev. R.A. Callies, an influential civic activist to create the statue. The statue stands at MLK plaza; however Torres hasn’t received any credit for his statue. This story is a tribute to Mr. Torres. (Photo, Nancy Marin)

The statue was the idea of Reverend R.A. Callies: a Baptist minister whose fight in the civil rights movement earned him the respect of the San Antonio community. He began a fundraising campaign in September 1975 in favor of a statue honoring the memory of Dr. King.

On April 4, 1981, the statue was finally erected. The area around is called MLK Plaza. Reverend Callies has very recently passed on and left his mark. However, there is someone who has been overlooked — the man who created the statue.

You won’t find his name mentioned anywhere. Meet Dr. Jose A Torres or “Jacosta”, as signed on the statue. Dr. Torres shared with La Prensa the history of his work and its legacy. It’s time to give an artist his credit.

Dr. Torres, 83, is known as the “miracle man” among his peers, the Lay Franciscans of the Third Order. He has been saved from death three times, a miracle in his eyes.

“It’s thanks to God’s healing that I am here right now. He’s saved me three times. I am very blessed,” Torres said.

He was one of the original marchers with Rev. Callies in the early 70s. He recalls a conversation with Callus, which prompted the idea of the statue.

“I was at a march with him and he said a statue would be a great idea. I said I could do it,” Torres recalled. “He asked if I was a sculptor and I said no but I am a professor, and an artist. I did it and he loved it.”

It took him six months to prepare the statue. Torres was a professor teaching at San Antonio College (SAC) and St. Edwards, and he would spend any extra time he got working on it. He actually rented an apartment with an elevated roof to accommodate its huge size.

“My inspiration was mostly perspiration,” Torres said, laughing. “I would work on it mostly after school. It was a lot of work and time.”

Torres got $25,000 for his work¬–all in nickels and dimes. It was the funds all gathered up by supporters of the statue. A bronze statue usually goes for $75,000 to $85,000.

“I’m very proud to have been in service and build the statue. I’m not upset about not having any recognition. I’m just happy to have contributed to black culture. The people know, and God knows what I have done,” Torres said.

Dr. Torres is a prime example of Dr. King’s teachings. As quoted by Dr. King himself, “Not everybody can be famous but everybody can be great, because greatness is determined by service.”

It is about time he gets some recognition for his talent and service to the community. When those marchers pass the statue this Monday, perhaps they will take a moment to remember “Jacosta”, the genius behind the statue.

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