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 often brought him negative reactions from many locals and violent retaliation from white racists. However, his efforts played a role in getting the “White Only” signs out of city and opened up new opportunities for the Black community.
Hayling was born in Tallahassee, Florida, on November 20, 1929. He was the son of a college professor who worked for Florida A&M University for over thirty years. He is the second of four children, all of whom received graduate degrees and three of whom retired as educators.
Hayling attended the Air Force Officer’s Candidate School, was commissioned second lieutenant in the United States Air Force, and served four years in the Aero Medical Research Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and also in the far east. He enrolled in Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, became the first black dentist in Florida, and was elected to local, regional, and state components of the American Dental Association.
Dr. Hayling later served as an advisor to the NAACP Youth Council and as the head of the St. Augustine Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC). He also fought in the Civil Rights Movement alongside notable influential activists, such as the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Reverend Ralph Abernathy, and Reverend Thomas Wright.