One of my heroes (Ambassador Andrew Young) spoke at the memorial service for one of my other heroes (Dr. Robert S. Hayling, D.D.S.) yesterday Saturday, February 20, 2016
I first met Dr. Robert S. Hayling over beers on Washington Street some nine or ten years ago, with my late activist friend David Thundershield Queen. He was a mensch who helped galvanize the St. Augustine Movement, which helped LBJ overcome the filibuster and enact the 1964 Civil Rights Act. he loved our idea for the St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore, with a Civil Rights Museum.
The last time I saw Dr. Hayling was on February 28, 2015, the night of the last Menendez Noche de Gala, at the rally for Michelle O'Connell outside the Lightner Museum and City Hall, as he, Commissioner Leanna Freeman and Flagler College President William Abare were walking past the statue of Menendez. I briefly told Dr. Hayling about the Michelle O'Connell case, and he said, "Let me know if there is anything I can do." Now he belongs to the ages. As Dr. Hayling always signed his signature, "Never Give Up."
Civil rights leader Dr. Robert Hayling remembered by family, friends, colleagues
Posted: February 20, 2016 - 11:16pm | Updated: February 21, 2016 - 12:11am
By JAKE MARTIN
A crowd gathered in Lincolnville on Saturday to say farewell to Dr. Robert Hayling, a dentist who was hailed as the father of St. Augustine’s civil rights movement in the 1960s.
Friends and colleagues said Hayling, at age 86, was an ordinary man continuing to do extraordinary things and acting each day on the belief there was still work to be done.
Hayling died at his Fort Lauderdale home in December, but if Saturday’s memorial service at St. Paul AME Church is any indicator, he has already secured his place in history.
“We’re here to celebrate,” former Florida Sen. Tony Hill told attendees at the beginning of the ceremonies.
Among prayers, songs and presentations were words of tribute and remembrances from those who knew Hayling best.
Local historian and author David Nolan said future historians would be likely to name three dominant figures in St. Augustine’s history since the Europeans arrived: Pedro Menendez, Henry Flagler and Hayling.
“I prefer Dr. Hayling’s contribution because it was to make St. Augustine a decent place,” he said.
Nolan said what was going on in the streets of St. Augustine in the early 1960s played an indisputable role in the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and that Hayling put himself on the front line.
“In all of our centuries of history, there has never been a time when the St. Augustine tail wagged the national dog like that,” he said.
On a more personal note, Nolan said you could rarely come out of a conversation with Hayling without a list of reading recommendations and that it didn’t quite yet feel like Hayling had departed.
Those were sentiments shared by many, as several family members and friends of Hayling found Christmas packages from him on their doorsteps after his passing.
There’s also Hayling’s legacy to consider.
James Jackson of St. Augustine was on the front line with Hayling, having met him shortly after high school and joining the NAACP Youth Council.
“If you saw Dr. Hayling, you saw me,” he said.
Jackson described Hayling as someone who never talked down to anyone and was hard to anger.
He spoke of an event in September 1963 in which he, Hayling, James Hauser and Clyde Jenkins went to eavesdrop on a Ku Klux Klan rally in St. Augustine and were found and beaten.
“We went through our initiation, but we never got a card,” he joked.
Jackson said although it was a frightening night in his young life, there is still humor to be found in any situation and that, ultimately, it didn’t deter him or Hayling from continuing work.
Friend and former neighbor Barbara Vickers said she asked Hayling just three months ago what his greatest fear was during the civil rights movement.
“Fear, my dear?” Hayling had replied. “You don’t have fear when you have a job to do.”
Vickers had remembered coming home the night in February 1964 when Hayling’s home was shot up and the bullets had killed Hayling’s beloved boxer dog and narrowly missed his pregnant wife.
She said she still has Hayling’s voice on her answering machine, telling her he’d call back later. But it was a call that never came.
“I play it and cry and play it and cry,” Vickers said.
Irvin L. Brunson of St. Augustine said he had recently asked Hayling if he noticed a difference between the activism of the 1960s and the activism of today.
He said Hayling had replied there are plenty of people riding the wagon these days but few who are willing to get out and push.
The Rev. Andrew Young, a former United Nations ambassador who had worked alongside Hayling in St. Augustine in the 1960s, said Hayling was in St. Augustine just a week or so before he died.
In passing some of the graves of those who had persecuted Hayling, he had asked his colleagues if they could pull over so he could get out of the car. Young said those who were there saw Hayling bow his head before the graves.
“Everybody is entitled to prayer and forgiveness,” Young quoted Hayling as saying when he returned to the car.
Young said it’s quite possible Hayling’s final public act in St. Augustine was one of reconciliation.
“I think that’s the message I want us to take from Dr. Hayling’s life, his service and the blessing he has been to us,” Young said. “This was a complex, complicated problem, and we can’t just simply dismiss it as black versus white.”
He said the gift Hayling gave others is one they cannot keep but, instead, must share.
Dr. Frederick Humphries, retired Florida A&M University president, said he would like to establish a place of honor for Hayling, a distinguished graduate, at A&M’s campus.
He also proposed building a partnership with St. Augustine to bring more students down to Lincolnville to learn about Hayling’s and St. Augustine’s place in the civil rights movement.
Awards and honors
A family funeral for Hayling was held in Fort Pierce on Jan. 18, which was also Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Saturday’s service was organized by Hayling’s family and Anniversary to Commemorate the Civil Rights Demonstrations.
Mayor Nancy Shaver, on behalf of the city of St. Augustine, declared Feb. 20, 2016, Dr. Robert B. Hayling Day. St. Johns County Commissioner Jeb Smith presented Hayling’s family with the county’s recognition of his “monumental” efforts.
These were just the latest honors bestowed upon Hayling.
In 2003, the St. Augustine street where he once lived was renamed Dr. R.B. Hayling Place. The city also bestowed upon him its two highest honors, the de Aviles Award and the Order of La Florida. In 2014, Hayling was inducted into the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame. On Feb. 8, the City Commission voted unanimously to name a future park in Lincolnville as Dr. Robert B. Hayling Freedom Park.
But friends say the recognitions only scratch the surface of Hayling’s true impact on St. Augustine, the civil rights movement and the people whose lives he touched.
The Rev. Ron Rawls, pastor of St. Paul AME Church, said Hayling could have easily lived a quiet, comfortable life and, instead, sacrificed for a greater good.
He also spoke to the extensive collaboration behind the memorial service.
“Everybody came forward,” Rawls said.
Before the congregation sang “We Shall Overcome” to close out the ceremony, Hayling’s sister, Yvonne Hayling Clarke, thanked the crowd and reiterated the most important lesson her parents had passed on to their children: “Never give up.”