Nathan Porter funded Black youth recreation center

Black History Month 2021

Nathan Porter funded recreation center for Black youth in Kissimmee

Census records state Nathan Porter was born in Georgia, but exactly where, when and the names of his parents are unknown. Dates for his birth vary from March 13, 1873 to May 1876, with his headstone, located in Rose Hill Cemetery in Kissimmee, showing a birthdate of March 7, 1877.

Nathan married Julia Witherspoon about 1909, and in 1910 they lived in Pasco County, Florida.  Nathan is listed as a tailor, Julia a seamstress. By 1918, they had moved to Kissimmee, Florida, where Nathan registered for the draft, listing his occupation as farmer. Two years later, Nathan was manager of a dry goods store on Mitchell Street while Julia was running a boarding house, also on Mitchell. On March 3, 1923 Julia passed away, and it is possible she is also buried in Rose Hill Cemetery in one of the three plots owned by Nathan.

Records indicate Nathan remarried, possibly in 1925, to Ida Garrett, a much younger woman.  They lost a child at birth in 1927, and in 1937, Ida and Nathan divorced. Nathan continued in the grocery business and also dabbled in real estate. With only a fourth-grade education, Nathan did well, and when he died on May 14, 1949, he left a will which provided for a trust fund of more than $25,000 to be used for a recreational center for the Black youth of Kissimmee.

In December 1953 work finally began on the Nathan Porter Memorial Recreation Center. Seven and one-half acres of the 15-acre Kissimmee High School area had been authorized by the Osceola County School Board for the building of the center. Dr. George W. Gore, president of Florida A&M University, was the guest speaker at the dedication ceremony on July 4, 1954. 

Lawrence Rogers, a local attorney in charge of Nathan’s estate, revealed this about Nathan in a news article: “Porter, for many years a leader of his race, was deeply interested in the welfare of its youth and felt that the hope and future of these young people depend largely on their direction and training. A little known fact about Porter is that he was largely responsible for preventing and stopping an organized Communist drive here among the Negroes shortly after World War II.”

Written by Anza Bast

Sources:  Ancestry.com; “Orlando Sentinel” articles 1953 and 1954. Newspaper Clipping from the Kissimmee Gazette, Dec. 11, 1953.