Dr. Robert B. Hayling
Dr. Robert Hayling (right) with Dr. King and Atlanta mayor (1982-1990) Andrew Young. Photo courtesy of Frank Murray
Dr. Robert B. Hayling has been hailed as the "father" of St.
Augustine's civil rights movement. He organized demonstrations and
coordinated visiting activists, including Dr. Martin Luther King. His
brave crusade brought him rejection from many locals and violent
retaliation from white racists. But it also got the "White Only" signs
out of St. Augustine.
Dr. Hayling, Meet St. Augustine
Like many newcomers to St. Augustine, Robert Hayling was
struck by the ancient city's primitiveness. He came from a highly
educated Tallahassee family, served as an officer in the Air Force, and
graduated medical school in Nashville. He was the first black dentist in
Florida elected to the American Dental Association.
Opening for business here in 1960, Dr. Hayling found St.
Augustine complacent about racial discrimination. He joined the local
NAACP in their protest of a segregated celebration of the city's 400th
anniversary. But the group was so concerned about peace-keeping that
their efforts amounted to merely asking white authorities for equal
rights. That did very little good in a town where the power structure
was predominantly white and racist.
Dr. Hayling with Lyn Murray
Dr. Hayling the Wave-maker
The desire for self-respect blazed stronger among the town's
black youth, who weren't as concerned as their parents about the
repercussions. So Dr. Hayling organized the more motivated teens into a
Youth Council of the NAACP. At his dental office, he taught them methods
of nonviolent activism. He arranged picketing and sit-ins at white-only
restaurants, and wade-ins at a white-only pool and beach. Because such
segregation was still legally enforced, he was arrested many times with
local demonstrators and visiting supporters.
Many black adults disapproved of the movement. For one thing,
their jobs with white employers were at risk. For another, the
demonstrations brought hostile white supremacists to St. Augustine from
surrounding areas. However, more people joined the black crusade when
speakers like Dr. Martin Luther King and Jackie Robinson came to town to
promote integration. Following Dr. King's and Dr. Hayling's example,
activists young and old voluntarily endured verbal and sometimes physical
abuse by racist business owners and patrons.
Dr. Hayling's composed nature wore thin when the abuse
escalated to death threats on his telephone. A reporter looking for the
dentist's response to the threats got an answer racist America was not
ready to hear. "I and the others have armed," said Dr. Hayling. "We will
shoot first and answer questions later. We are not going to die like
That reporter lucked into one of the most sensationalized
quotes in the national media. It was publicized over and over as an
announcement of armed uprising of the black masses. The aftershocks led
the NAACP and many black townspeople to disassociate with Dr. Hayling
for sheer reputation. Nevertheless, he continued leading faithful
volunteers in organized demonstrations, never raising a weapon against
those frequently raised at him. He made national news again when a
particular volunteer was arrested for participating in one of Dr.
Hayling's sit-ins - the 72-year old, white mother of the governor of