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Saving Dobyville: How neighbors are working to preserve Hyde Park's forgotten African American history

"You can't talk about Hyde Park without understanding the history of Dobyville," said neighbor Reese Riggle.

TAMPA, Fla. — Tara Nelan had no idea when she moved into her Hyde Park home that she lived within the walls of history.

"It's an honor,” she said.

Tucked away on Azeele Street not far from where the Selmon Expressway cut through an old African American neighborhood called Dobyville, sits the home of prominent businessman and philanthropist, Richard Doby.

Nelan knew little about him until his home became hers.

“When I found out who this home originally belonged to, it certainly put more significance on it for me, more responsibility to keep it standing,” she said.

Doby made significant contributions to his community, buying land for institutions like schools and churches to help build his community when resources were scarce for African Americans. His namesake town grew alongside Hyde Park during the Jim Crow era.

"You can't talk about Hyde Park without understanding the history of Dobyville,” said neighbor Reese Riggle.

Dobyville neighbors held a range of jobs and many served as domestic workers for white families in Hyde Park. However, because of segregation, African Americans were not allowed to live in the area.

To make sure the history of this thriving town lives on, a new effort is underway in Hyde Park to preserve what remains of Dobyville.

"African American neighborhoods have basically been erased from the oldest parts of Tampa, said historian Rodney Kite-Powell of the Tampa Bay History Center.

Neighbors say they are seeking a local historic designation to help preserve the character of Dobyville in a rapidly changing Hyde Park.

“The local historic expansion and getting that designation for this area would offer more protection to the structures that are currently standing, and that would also potentially prevent someone from coming in and building a 3-story townhome, potentially,” said Aaron Albregts, president of the Hyde Park Spanishtown Creek Civic Association. “So, having that protection with the historic designation is key.

Riggle said neighbors have already met with the city’s historic preservation team but adds that making any changes would take time and neighborhood input.

“This, too, is a historic area, and it's able to be protected because of the homes that are still here. There hasn't been the amount of development that would preclude that from happening, and so we want that to happen to protect what's left,” he said.

Riggle says getting the local historic designation is not an issue of pitting neighbors against developers. “No one here is against developers coming in and building something new, but all of the neighbors we've spoken to want developers to build within the character of the neighborhood,” he said.

It’s a type of character neighbors and historians hope to preserve for years to come.

"There's been a lot of gentrification to take place in this part of Hyde Park,” said Kite-Powell. “And so keeping the physical built environment, I think is really important because they're kind of literal tangible reminders of segregation, but also overcoming that segregation to a point of self-sufficiency...”

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