The board of the Key West Housing Authority on April 19 voted unanimously to change the name of JY Porter Place public housing apartments in light of concerns about Porter’s connections to the Ku Klux Klan. The same board is also committed to making its meetings more accessible to the public and to creating a resident advisory board to give residents of public housing a voice.
The JY Porter Place housing complex at the end of White Street will be renamed, as proposed by City Commissioner Clayton Lopez, for Lang B. Milian, the second black man ever elected to the Key West city commission in 1971.
Key West elected its first black city commissioner, Robert Gabriel, in the first decade of the 1900s. A public housing complex in Bahama Village is named for him.
Following the April 19 name-change vote, housing authority commissioner Annette Mobley told Lopez, “You’ve been making me smile all day with this.”
City Commissioner Sam Kaufman had brought Porter’s KKK connection to the housing board’s attention in October and initially met with resistance from three of the five board members, who dismissed Kaufman’s suggestion and questioned whether JY Porter or his son was a local Klan leader.
Lopez followed up with a letter on April 16 to the Housing Authority board that recognized the commissioners’ decades of honorable service, but also expressed regret over the potentially divisive name. Lopez wrote that despite the contributions of Dr. Porter as the state’s first health officer, “the darker side of that history” must also be recognized.
“I would like to offer a possible solution in the hope of avoiding further division in our community over this issue,” Lopez wrote, suggesting the complex be named for Milian.
“Doing this would keep the historic perspective we all love, while casting no further aspersion on the name of Dr. Porter,” Lopez wrote. “It would again allow us to concentrate on those issues that unite us and on which we can work together, rather than those that separate us and divert our attention from our greater missions of service to our neighbor.”
After publicly criticizing the housing authority board for its lack of accessibility and failure to provide online links to its meetings, Kaufman thanked the board on April 19.
“This is a great day for Key West,” Kaufman told the board. “We are One Human Family and now my kids will learn about what you did for them. The message you’re sending to the community (with the name change) is wonderful.”
The name change will not be finalized until the Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) approves it. But the Key West Housing Authority’s executive director, Randy Sterling, said he will bring the matter to HUD’s attention in the coming weeks.
At the close of the housing authority board meeting, the board’s new director of communications, Peter Batty Sr., told the board and the public that they are moving forward with increased public access, virtual meeting links and the creation of an advisory board to address concerns from residents of the city’s public housing complexes.