Letter: It took 50-years to tell the story, please get it right
Derek Boyd Hankerson
St Augustine, FL
I have written to Dana Ste. Claire asking the “African American Steering Committee” and his office to correct an inaccurate designation given to Dr. Robert Hayling which I now find is being picked up and repeated as fact — it is not correct. Dr. Hayling was not the first black dentist in St. Augustine, as represented by the 450th Commemoration panel.
In fact, Dr. Julius Gazelle Fields, who was a native of Armstrong, in St Johns County, Florida, who was born on April 8, 1921 and was the son of the late Ruben Homer Fields and Annie Mae Hankerson Fields, was the first black native resident to practice dentistry.
Dr. Fields attended Webster Elementary school at West Augustine School No. 6, now Webster Elementary, was a graduate from Excelsior (Murray) colored High School in 1939. After High School, he graduated from Florida Memorial College and did pre-dental work at Fisk University; a historically black college and university located in Nashville, Tennessee. He graduated from Meharry Medical College in Nashville on June 4, 1941.
Immediately after graduating he enlisted in the United States Army and finished Officers Candidate School, Fort Benning, as a 2nd Lieutenant and was promoted while serving in the South Pacific as 1st Lieutenant. He achieved the rank of Captain at the time he was honorably discharged.
In 1951, Dr. Fields returned to St Johns County and began to practice with another dentist in town. He was part of the Army Dental Corps of the United States Reserves in the 1960’s. He passed his Florida State Boards, was certified by the Clerk of Courts Hiram Faver, and had his own practice until his death in 1967.
I have always tried to assist Dana Ste Claire, the 450th Commemoration, and others to get the facts right the first time, but this fell through the cracks. As we move forward with next year’s events, I am asking that you please check the records before continuing to circulate misinformation and hearsay.