Monday, May 16, 2011

Dr. Robert Hayling Urges St. Augustine to Include African-Americans in 450th Celebration

Civil rights leader urges St. Augustine to involve blacks in city's anniversary planning

City needs blacks in on 450th fete planning, he says.

Posted: February 17, 2011 - 1:00am
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DARON DEAN/St. Augustine Record
Robert Hayling used his speech to urge St. Augustine to involve blacks in the planning of the city’s 450th anniversary celebration.

A piece of black history

As part of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus' observation of Black History Month, which included a speech by St. Augustine civil rights leader Robert Hayling, the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office offered a rare historic relic to the event: The arrest card used for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. when he was arrested during protests in the area in 1964.

The old, yellowing card was actually from Palatka, which was crossed out on the card so it could be used in St. Augustine.

"They arrested so many people, they ran out of fingerprinting cards," Sheriff's Office spokesman Kevin Kelshaw said.

Kelshaw said the card will soon be moved to an African-American museum at the old Excelsior High School in St. Augustine's Lincolnville neighborhood.

TALLAHASSEE - An icon of the St. Augustine civil rights movement reflected on a past of discrimination in the area during the Florida Legislative Black Caucus' celebration of Black History Month and asked city leaders not to repeat a misguided decision of the past in the run-up to a major celebration.

Robert Hayling, widely credited as being the leader of the civil rights movement in St. Augustine, addressed the caucus Wednesday, recalling the progress the area and Florida have made and what is left to be done. Hayling helped rally young blacks to confront segregation in the town, culminating in protests that provided momentum for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In his address to the caucus, Hayling pleaded with the city to make sure that planning for the 450th anniversary celebration, scheduled for 2015, includes adequate representation for blacks. Hayling said that, to his knowledge, only one black woman has been appointed to the various committees planning for the event.

Hayling said planning for the 400th anniversary of the city's founding also included no blacks, even though they made up a fifth of the city's population, but leaders "dropped the ball" by agreeing to meet with officials after the ceremony was over - and ended up simply meeting with the city manager's secretary.

"I'm taking this platform to serve notice to St. Augustine and all the powers that be: Please don't make the same mistake that you made for the 400th anniversary for the 450th anniversary," Hayling said. "Because we are kind of celebrating, thinking that we have made some progress. Please don't let us down."

Much of the night, though, was devoted to memories and a history that remains cloudy, in some ways even to its participants. Hayling, who was once beaten bloody by a Klan mob that threatened to burn him and several other men alive, told the lawmakers he was still trying to sort some things out.

"I have far more questions than I have answers," Hayling said, "because St. Augustine had never ever been [described] in my growing-up days as such a community."

After his remarks, Hayling said leaders of the movement were certain that there was high-level support for some of the actions taken to try to stop the movement.

"We've never gotten to the bottom of where the extreme resistance and the patronage of the Klan ... had come from," he said.

Others who still bear the scars, physical and otherwise, from that day were also a part of the event. Barbara James of St. Augustine and Jo Ann Martin Hughes of Sarasota remembered being poked with cattle prods and sent to jail for protesting discrimination at a restaurant/pharmacy that wouldn't serve them.

Hughes said she was unaware that the incident remained on her record for years until 1995, when it turned up when the school district she was working for fingerprinted its teachers. She worried about whether she would still be allowed to teach.

"It was a very hard time for me during that week," she said. "I lost five pounds."

James, Hughes and Hayling were among those whose records were expunged by the state on Dec. 9.

James Jackson, who was with Hayling on the night that he was threatened by the Klan, said he was surprised at how deeply racism had taken hold of St. Augustine in the 1960s; he remembered it as a diverse community where whites and blacks often lived next door to each other.

"I didn't realize men could be that barbaric to each other," he said.

Hayling also used the event to set the record straight, he said, after media reports that he had threatened to "shoot first and ask questions later" after his house was shot up by the Klan.

"I said that I intended to defend myself, my family and my property with all the vim, vigor and vitality at my command," Hayling said. He wanted to correct the misquote, he said, because of the nature of the movement.

"We were a nonviolent movement," Hayling said, "and I don't think we ever chose violence over nonviolence.", (678) 977-3709


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