At 90, Booker Doby is the oldest known descendant of Richard C. Doby, the wealthy Black businessman whose West Hyde Park neighborhood and local elementary school bore his name.
He also very likely is the only one who still remembers Richard C. Doby when he was alive.
“He drove a truck. He picked up garbage. He delivered ice. I remember that much about him. I know he had a whole lot of property,” says Booker, who also drove a truck, for Anderson’s Surgical.
Richard C. Doby’s grandson, the late Richard B. Doby, described his grandfather Richard C. Doby as his idol, according to correspondence. Richard B. lived with his family in a home at 203 S. Oregon Ave. that was passed down through the generations from Richard C. Doby.
Richard B. retired from the U.S. Army as a master sergeant. A successful banker in Colorado, he worked as a senior vice president and commercial banking executive, served as a Colorado banking commissioner and chairman and was an appointed member of the Consumer Advisory Council for the Federal Reserve Board of Governors.
Richard B.’s correspondence shows his grandfather ran a trash business with his father Herman and Uncle James.
“I later did also work for my father driving his garbage truck until I left for the military in 1948,” he wrote.
Richard C. Doby died in 1937 or 1938, according to Booker, who remembers attending the funeral at St. Paul’s AME Church. A burial followed at Memorial Cemetery.
“I can’t give you much history on my great-grandfather,” says Booker, James’ grandson.
Even in those days, Dobyville was a memory. Richard C. Doby had been living in the Carver City area. Richard B. moved to the Carver City area, where family members lived on a farm, upon Richard C. Doby’s death.
“When I came along, Dobyville was demolished,” says Booker, who was born in December of 1931. “It was West Hyde Park.”
Both Booker and Richard B. attended the Dobyville Elementary School built on land donated to the school district by Richard C. Doby.
Booker says there hadn’t been a school for the Black children of the neighborhood. He recalls his cousins, who were Seventh-day Adventists, attended a church school instead.
Dobyville Elementary remembered
Though Dobyville Elementary closed its doors at 407 S. Dakota Ave. in 1966, it left a lasting impression on those who attended. Among them was Supt. Charles Davis, who at 82 serves as pastor of College Hill Church of God while overseeing other churches in the Tampa District.
Even today, Supt. Davis is happy to share the school song:
“Dobyville, Dobyville, the school we love in West Hyde Park…
In the winter, in the springtime, it’s the only place to be...
You get yourself together and come on to school,
take what we have to offer and obey all the rules…
Dobyville, Dobyville, the school we love in West Hyde Park.”
By today’s standards, some may consider the school strict.
“They could whip you then,” Supt. Davis points out.
It appears there was little reluctance to do so.
“One time the teacher spanked all of us,” recalls another alumnus, Christine Houston.
The reason? “Because you were there and won’t tell [who disobeyed],” she explains.
Houston, who wanted to learn and did not consider the school strict, took it all in stride. She read her book right through the spanking.
“When she was through, I went back to my desk still reading my book,” Houston says.
Students ate their lunches outside when weather permitted.
Teachers were “very, very diligent,” “concerned,” and “passionate,” Supt. Davis says.
“They made sure we did what we had to do academically,” he says.
Although the school and all of West Hyde Park were segregated, its doors were open to those outside of the neighborhood.
Supt. Davis recalls a student who was 20, a farmer, who attended the second grade.
“He had never gone to school,” he explains.
Students forged a lasting bond.
“Everybody was like family,” Houston says. “We still get along like family, like sisters and brothers.”
And through the years, they’ve managed to keep in some form of contact, enough to hold three reunions. The largest drew 75 former classmates and families. The last one was in August 2019.
“It’s not so hard for us to get a reunion,” explains Houston, who has helped organize them with Supt. Davis and Ben Foster, a former classmate who runs a Tampa body shop.
“We still consider ourselves more than classmates. Everybody knew everybody from parents on down,” she says.
It didn’t matter how long they attended; Houston was only there for the sixth grade, in 1952.
“I keep in touch with each and every one of them, let them know what’s going on with the ones that were left behind,” says Houston, a Ruskin resident who retired as a supervisor from Honeywell.
Her classmates have spread across the country. Some are business owners. Some attended college out of state. Some became teachers and principals or sports coaches.
They’d like to get a reunion together this year, but the school’s alumni are getting older and quite a few have died. Then there’s COVID-19.
“The ones I’ve talked to are eager for another reunion,” she says.
The Doby family itself has spread out too. Still, they’ve kept tabs on efforts to recognize the family’s heritage.
Booker, who lives in North Tampa, successfully advocated for his aunt Inez Doby, a noteworthy Hillsborough County educator, to be honored. An Apollo Beach elementary school was subsequently named after her.
Harold “Tony” Doby Jr, great-grandson of Ernest Doby poses with members of his family on the porch of his ancestor’s house on Azeele Street. Built circa 1912, this was once the home of Richard C. Doby’s son Ernest.
Memories are incomplete and, in some cases, conflict. Booker can’t recall the Doby family house on Azeele Street, or what his great-grandfather looked like.
“I think my great-grandfather did a lot for the Black people of Hyde Park,” he says, adding he supports any effort to honor him.
Billie Doby, another of Richard C. Doby’s great-grandsons, helped coordinate the family’s participation when the Dobyville marker was erected at the southwest corner of South Willow Avenue and West Platt Street in 2007.
He still lived in the Tampa area at the time. These days, the 42-year-old lives in Savannah, where his 24-year-old son Deshawn also resides. Billie works as a director of operations for Zaxby’s Restaurant.
He’s pleased to see the city’s efforts to preserve the land as part of his family’s history.
“I think that it’s very important,” he explains. “Residents in the city of Tampa will know what was there.”
He acknowledges they don’t know what was there initially, however, or what was lost.
“I do find it a little mind boggling...why it didn’t get passed on,” he adds.
Another great-grandson, Harold “Tony” Doby Jr. showed up for the walking tour of Dobyville in March, along with daughters Jasmine and Zoe and grandson Frederick.
“We were part of the crowd. We were treated very well for being there,” says Tony, who trains linemen for Duke Energy.
Born and raised in the Tampa area, Tony is now a 56-year-old who lives in Apopka. While he can share no stories of Dobyville, he remembers his grandmother Madeleine teaching him “to be proud of my family name and of who I was.”
Learn more about Dobyville:
Dobyville: One of Tampa's forgotten Black neighborhoods.
And the neighborhood-led effort to extend the local historic designation to include Dobyville:
Dobyville residents revive history of Tampa's historic Black neighborhood.