Dobyville, Tampa’s once-thriving community of African-Americans, now essentially gone

Hillsborough County

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – The vibrant West Hyde Park area of Tampa is filled with condos, apartments and businesses, but it wasn’t always that way. It was different. It used to be home to a bustling black community.

The community was called Dobyville. A sign along a busy roadway at the foot of an exit at the Leroy Selmon Expressway is one of the few symbols that prove it ever existed.

“Dobyville is one of those neighborhoods that’s pretty much lost to time and space,” said Rodney Kite-Powell from the Tampa Bay History Center. “It was a neighborhood that really was an interesting mix of people in the African-American community.”

It was also an example of the times.

“A lot of folks who lived there worked in the homes of the white people in Hyde park, the wealthy people of Hyde park,” Kite-Powell said. “They were chauffeurs or they were cooks or nannies or whatever in those homes. But also, they were a small middle class of professional people who lived in Dobyville.”

A 1920s study showed about 10% of Tampa’s black population lived in the Dobyville area. Others live in the Central Avenue area known as The Scrub, Ybor City, West Tampa and College Hill.

For decades, Dobyville had churches, businesses, homes and a school.

Bishop Michelle Patty attended Dobyville School as girl. She remembers the time fondly.

“This is our area where we had great times,” she said.

The school was torn down in the mid-1970s to make way for the Crosstown Expressway, now called the Leroy Selmon Expressway.

Dobyville began to disappear too, but not to famine, storm and crime.

“What happened was redevelopment and gentrification,” Kite-Powell said.

Booker Doby, grandson of Richard C. Doby

Dobyville, but for a handful of homes, was lost.

Booker Doby, 87, is the grandson of the man who founded Dobyville: Richard C. Doby.

“My grandfather died in 1938,” he told us.

Though no pictures exist of his grandfather, he remembers him, even though he was only 6 or 7 when his grandfather passed away.

”They say when he used to walk down Franklin Street, everybody recognized him, black or white,” Doby said.

His legacy has left a mark that can’t be erased.

“He was in all kinds of different businesses. He was a real estate guy, he was also an ice dealer and a fish dealer, a lot of different things,” said Kite-Powell. “He also owned a good bite of property in that section of Tampa. And he donated property for a school, which became the Dobyville School.”

Booker Doby also said his grandfather donated the land for the Zion Cemetery. It was recently discovered that the Robles Park public housing complex was built atop part of that cemetery. Officials are in the process of planning a memorial to those buried there. Residents have already begun moving out or being relocated to other housing areas.  

Booker Doby has fond memories of his grandfather.

“He was a powerful man, but he wasn’t a big man. He was  small man,” Doby recalls.

He is proud to bear the Doby name, even if the fruits of his grandfather’s early labor, the community he founded, are all but gone.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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