Tomorrow afternoon, St Augustine Mayor Nancy Shaver will address those attending a program of tribute in loving memory of 86-year-old Robert Bagner Hayling, DDS. Dr. Hayling was a resident of Lauderhill, FL, where he had lived for over 40 years. He died on December 20, 2015.
Delaitre J. Hollinger, Executive Director of the National Association for the Preservation of African-American History and Culture, asked that Mayor Shaver come to Tallahassee for the ceremony beginning at 12:00 noon.
“It is fitting that this tribute to Dr. Hayling be held in the Rotunda, on the Plaza Level of the Capitol, in front of the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame where he was inducted in 2014,” Mayor Shaver told local Historic City News reporters. “Tallahassee was also home to Dr. Hayling. It’s where he was born, grew up, and, in 1951, where he would graduate from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University.”
The mayor says it is an honor to have been asked to make her brief address. Shaver will be the second speaker, after Florida A&M University President, Elmira Mangum, Ph.D.
“I am humbled to be representing the City of St Augustine in tribute to the extraordinary life and achievements of Dr. Hayling,” Shaver said.
During the peak of the Civil Rights Movement in America, Hayling came to St Augustine and reportedly established the first racially-integrated dental practice in the City. By 1963 Dr. Hayling was Youth Council Advisor to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in St. Augustine.
Later that same year, Dr. Hayling threatened public demonstrations against racially-segregated facilities; urging Vice President Lyndon Johnson not to attend the city’s 400th anniversary celebrations (1965) if they remained segregated. Although Johnson’s insistence led officials to integrate the celebrations, city officials ignored their additional promise to set up a bi-racial commission to address the concerns of the black population.
During the summer and fall of 1963, black residents faced escalating violence at the hands of white segregationists. In September of that year, Hayling and two others were nearly killed when they were beaten at a Ku-Klux-Klan rally.
After grand jury findings blamed racial tensions on activists, including Hayling, the NAACP deemed him “too militant”. Hayling resigned from the NAACP and turned to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference for support.
SCLC recruited white northern college students, trained in the techniques of non-violence, to spend their spring vacations in St. Augustine. A high profile desegregation campaign was set for Easter Week, 1964, including a series of night marches, pickets and sit-ins.
Hundreds were arrested, including Hayling, King, and Mary Peabody ─ the elderly mother of the sitting governor of Massachusetts, which brought national media attention to St. Augustine.
When a June 18, 1964 grand jury suggested that SCLC withdraw for a 30-day “cooling-off period”, Hayling and King released a joint statement saying, “There will be neither peace nor tranquility in this community until the righteous demands of the Negro are fully met.”
The impasse was broken less than two weeks later, on June 30, 1964. Florida Governor Farris Bryant declared his intention to set up a bi-racial commission to address race relations in St. Augustine, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference protestors reportedly left the city the next day. President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law two-days later, on July 2, 1964.
Robert Hayling was married to the former Athea Lucille Wake, who died in 2012. They were the parents of Robin, Tamara, and Crystal, who all survive them. Dr. Hayling is also survived by his sister, Yvonne Hayling Clarke of Sarasota, FL, and a brother, Charles, Jr. of Fort Pierce.