Dobyville neighborhood reunion celebrates memories of tight-knit Tampa African American community

Rev. Donald Leroy McBride says the historical marker at Willow and Platt that tells the history of Dobyville, West Hyde Park’s Black community, is in the wrong place. 

It’s on the edge of the neighborhood where the wealthy white residents of Hyde Park lived. West Hyde Park was where their domestic workers, butlers, chauffeurs and gardeners lived.

“We couldn’t have stood there and read that sign without being accosted by the police. 'What are you doing here?'" says McBride, who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s. 

He would like to see the marker moved to the heart of the old Dobyville community.
McBride, 73, who is pastor of a church in Perry, talked about the close-knit neighborhood during a reunion Saturday of people who lived in the neighborhood. Many of them attended Dobyville Elementary School, where teachers had a profound influence on McBride. The community was named for Richard C. Doby, a successful Black businessman and real estate investor of the early 1900s. He donated the land for the school at 307 S. Dakota Ave., which opened around 1910 and closed in 1966. It was destroyed, along with a lot of houses, to pave the way for the Crosstown Expressway, now known as the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway.

Called Dobyville in the 1930s, people who grew up in the '40s, '50s and '60s knew the neighborhood as West Hyde Park. The neighborhood’s borders were roughly from its northeast corner at Fig Street and North Willow south to Swann, west to South Albany, north to Kennedy, east to Rome, north to Fig and then east to North Willow, according to Rodney Kite-Powell, manager of the Touchton Map Library at the Tampa Bay History Center.

Part of Dobyville has been designated as a historic district, but the Hyde Park-Spanish Creek Civil Association hopes to get the designation expanded to include more of old West Hyde Park.
What: Tampa Historic Preservation Commission public hearing on a request to expand Hyde Parl Local Historic district boundaries.
When: 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, August 30.
Where: City Council Chambers, third floor of Old City Hall, 315 E. Kennedy Blvd.

A public hearing on the matter is scheduled before the Historic Preservation Commission at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 30 in the Tampa City Council chambers.

The neighborhood reunions started about six years ago, says Ben Foster, a key early organizer. But because of the pandemic, Saturday, August 20 was the first time in three years that these friends of seven decades or more have been able to get together. About 70 people attended the event at the Charles Davis (College Hill) Conference Center on east Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. They sat at covered tables set for a late lunch of Cuban sandwiches, fried chicken, meatballs, salads, cookies and cake.

The reunion site is part of the College Hill Church of God in Christ, where Superintendent Charles Davis is pastor. Davis, 81, grew up in West Hyde Park, where his father was a pastor. He attended Dobyville Elementary in the 1950s and remembers that the teachers were sticklers for good hygiene.

“At the school, the teachers were concerned that your fingernails were clean, behind your ears, your teeth were brushed,” Davis says. “They would check all that in the morning.”

And if students misbehaved, they risked getting a paddling. Davis says he felt the sting of the paddle more than once for getting into mischief.

“I wasn’t bad. I just had to try it,’’ he says, grinning.

His childhood friend, Barbara Turner Henderson, says Davis would embarrass her so much when she visited his church.

“He would say, ‘I see Barbara out here in the audience,’” she recalls. “And he would say, ‘That’s the only girl that beat me up.’”

Henderson, 81, was born at 1321 North B Street in a house that still stands. She, her sisters and her brother were all born there, delivered by midwives. She describes herself as a “rough, tough’’ girl who bugged her brother and his friends so much that they’d occasionally let her play football with them. She’d come home with sand in her plaited hair.

“I really wanted to be a boy.” Henderson says. “They had more fun.”

Though she did play with dolls from time to time. She said the girls in the poor neighborhood would make their own. They’d take a Frostie root beer bottle, unbraid packing rope and stuff the strands into the neck of the bottle, held in place by a popsicle stick. Then they could comb the doll’s hair.

“We didn’t have a playground,’’ says her brother, retired pastor Leroy Turner Jr., 80. 
They played football and baseball in the street.

 "We played yo-yo, we played spin top, we played four square, we played hopscotch, we played kick the can, hide and go seek, cops and robbers, jungle, all of these games that we made up,” Turner remembers.

It was a community of close neighbors, Davis says.

“We lived off of each other and just cared about each other,” he says. “If I had a problem, you had it.”

Three strong churches drew in most of the community and obviously molded a number of future preachers. Yet another minister at the reunion, Rev. Ernest Coney, 75, remembers one of the biggest events of the year was the annual May Day celebration. The kids would rehearse weaving the colorful ribbons to make the maypole, and it was a dress-up affair for them. Coney remembers his mother had a picture of him and his younger brother, Charles Coney Sr., 71, who was also at the reunion.

“She kept a picture of us, and we had our shirt and tie on,” he says. “It was a bow tie. That was very unique to me.’’

McBride praised the teachers at Dobyville Elementary and named each one he had from first to sixth grade. His sixth-grade teacher, Gloria Lomas Philmore, was the one who influenced him the most.

“She always expected the best out of us and would not accept anything but the best, especially for me,” McBride says. “I had a natural gift of speaking. She always encouraged me, would not let me shrink in the back.”

At the reunion, McBride was gathering the old addresses of his West Hyde Park neighbors in order to create a virtual map of where everyone lived. It’s heartbreaking that such a vibrant community was destroyed by “eminent domain and revitalization,’’ he says.

“The Crosstown was the beginning of the end,” McBride says.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Philip Morgan.

Philip Morgan is a freelance writer living in St. Petersburg. He is an award-winning reporter who has covered news in the Tampa Bay area for more than 50 years. Phil grew up in Miami and graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in journalism. He joined the Lakeland Ledger, where he covered police and city government. He spent 36 years as a reporter for the former Tampa Tribune. During his time at the Tribune, he covered welfare and courts and did investigative reporting before spending 30 years as a feature writer. He worked as a reporter for the Tampa Bay Times for 12 years. He loves writing stories about interesting people, places and issues.