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Locals reminisce on Zephyrhills' Black history and look toward the future

Irene Dobson
Posted at 5:46 AM, Jul 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-08 08:08:56-04

ZEPHYRHILLS, Fla.  — Zephyrhills is home to a thriving African American Community.

A lot of the Black families that live there are descendants of those who came here in the early 1960s.

ABC Action News Anchor Deiah Riley toured the tight-knit community known as The Quarters and learned a lesson about its rich history.

"We are heading to the Quarters. We're coming up on 6th Avenue," said Reggie Roberts.

Roberts provided the tour of Zephyrhills and the Quarters. He's now an inspector with the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.

"Here's the railroad tracks and this is where the quarters begin," said Roberts.

Roberts grew up here. He used to work for the Zephyrhills Police Department, and he knows everybody.

"If we go somewhere and you mentioned Wilma, most people will be able to tell you who my mom and definitely my father — they will tell you who they are. And so the village raises the child," said Roberts.

Roberts is a descendant of the first Black man who put down roots in this community. David Giles is Reggie's cousin and the family historian.

"The very first Black family to live here, and in 1910 my grandfather coming here working for Seaboard Coastline railroad left and came back. He brought the family. And this family has been here ever since. So it wasn't even Zephyrhills at the time. It was called Abbott station," explained Giles.

The name was changed to Zephyrhills that same year in 1910. The railroad is what brought the first Black families to the area.

The Quarters was the segregated compound where they settled.

Jimmy Campbell grew up here, too.

"Otis Moody Quarters, this is one of the four quarters. You have Byron Hills Quarters, Krusen Quarters, this is Otis Moody Quarters, then you have Hercules Quarters which is where Zephyrhills High school is now," explained Campbell.

Marcus McCants is a Zephyrhills High School football legend. He's now a successful businessman with multiple restaurants in the area.

He, too, grew up in the Quarters.

"If I didn't grow up in Zephyrhills, I wouldn't be where I am today," said McCants. "So those who didn't have dads in the household, we play sports, and pretty much everybody in the neighborhood played sports. Those coaches were a very integral part of our growing up. So they gave us that male bonding that competitiveness, they gave us everything that we needed."

You can't mention this community's village without mentioning Miss Irene Dobson. She mentored, taught and sewed clothing for and disciplined her kids and everybody else's in the Quarters.

"She was the type of lady that would bring everybody together. She fought and she made the rest of us fight for justice and equality in this community," said Giles.

Dobson battled City Hall and got dirt roads paved in the Quarters and street lights added.

In 2004, she took on the city once again. This time in a battle that got nationwide attention.

"She came to me, I was the City Manager in Zephyrhills, at the time, and she came to me with the idea of renaming 6th Sixth Avenue for Martin Luther King, Jr.," explained Steve Spina.

Spina remembers the long fight that followed. The Council voted in favor of changing the name, then changed it back.

Today, 6th Avenue remains but with a commemorative plaque honoring Dr. King.

Dobson is now 98 and living with dementia, which has robbed her of so many precious memories. But, not this one.

"I talked to them, look up do right. Get along, hello, how are you doing. All that stuff. You don't walk by people and turn your head," said Dobson.

Life lessons that will help pave the way for the next generation of leaders.

"My grandmother always told me, be careful of the bridge you build because you'll need it to come back over," said Roberts.

A few years ago a documentary was produced on the Black history of Zephyrhills. You can watch that video by clicking here.