83. Bishop Kee Statue

Historic Marker number 83 is located at the Southernmost Point at the corner of Whitehead and South Street.

This bronze statue, erected in March 2015, celebrates the life of Bishop Albert Kee, a preacher, businessman, and Key West's official ambassador of goodwill. Each day, Bishop Kee could be seen at the Southernmost Point, greeting the Conch Train with a cheerful wave and toot on a conch shell. He educated visitors about the origins of conch and various uses for conch meat and also explained how Key West's natives came to be called Conchs.”

Bishop Kee, and his father before him, left a 50-year legacy of welcoming all who visited the Southernmost Point and popularized conch blowing. More important, they were emissaries of the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic community that has made Key West unique since its inception.

The two witnessed changes that came to Key West over time; changes that mirrored those occurring outside their tiny island, and that resonate to this day. Kee and his father lived in Key West when all the beaches in Florida were segregated and the sole water access area for most of Bahama Village was an area of land called the “Black Beach” that was part of Army property originating from the Point and stretching to Fort Zachary Taylor.

In 1948 the army transferred most of this land to the Navy. The Navy built military housing and connected the stretch of land and beach to Truman Annex. In 1942, with the threat of World War II, the Navy erected a fence along Whitehead Street to separate their base housing from the town. This, in effect, reduced “Black Beach” to a tiny patch of beach front that we now know as the Southernmost Point.

From this small patch of land, Bahama Village fishermen anchored their boats, sold their catch along Whitehead Street, and shared the waters with their children and families.

Bishop Kee and his father, “Yankee”, were at the Point in 1969 when segregated beaches became illegal throughout Florida. Also, Bishop Kee witnessed the Southernmost Point evolve into a spot that thousands of tourists flock to for their photos. And he was there when the old wooden southernmost billboard was replaced with the oversized buoy proclaiming that it is the southernmost point in the continental United States. The buoy design originated from a large floating buoy that marked the entrance to the “Black Beach.”

A number of years prior to this, President Harry Truman took a big step in support of equal rights when he ordered that the military become desegregated. His orders were interpreted to mean that desegregation applied only to military personnel.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower took this a step further and desegregated the entire military.

The historic Black Beach could not be returned to the community since a large portion of it was now a military base with Navy housing built along the adjacent shores. However, as a gesture to the community, the city built a large community pool and community center at the edge of Bahama Village. The pool was situated to look over the beaches that were once Black Beach and toward the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. It had ground level space for community gatherings and was open to all.

The pool is currently called the Martin Luther King Community Center and is located at 300 Catherine Street in Bahama Village.