A colored image of Dr. R. B. Hayling, circa 2014. He is an old Black man with white hair and perceptive eyes.

Dr. Robert B. Hayling

Leader of the St. Augustine Civil Rights Movement.

Dr. Robert B. Hayling

Early Life, Education, and Civil Rights Awakening

Dr. Robert B. Hayling grew up in Tallahassee, Florida, as a middle brother of four siblings. His mother was a Creole woman from Louisiana, and his father was an immigrant from the island of Grenada (making Hayling of Caribbean descent). Their household valued education, as his father was a college professor at Florida A&M University.

Young Robert attended Florida A&M University as an undergraduate student and became an officer in the United States Air Force after receiving his Bachelor's degree. However, his path changed when he was accepted to Maherry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee to study dentistry. There, Hayling not only earned his doctorate but also participated in some of his first protests against segregation and racism. A prominent Nashville protest that Hayling joined was in response to a firebombing of his Maherry men's dormitory and the nearby home of Dr. Z Alexander Looby.

Dentistry in St. Augustine

With Florida badly in need of Black dentists, Hayling accepted schooling assistance from the state and was moved to St. Augustine after he graduated from Maherry in 1960. He took over the offices of the town's previous Black dentist at 79 Bridge Street and began serving the community, including prisoners from the local jail. According to a 2011 interview with Dr. Hayling, his patients were about 60% White.

However, the vile racism he witnessed in the "Ancient City'' was impossible to ignore.

Leadership in the St. Augustine Civil Rights Movement

In 1963, Dr. Robert B. Hayling joined the St. Augustine chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and began leading their Youth Council.

Hayling was an active organizer within the St. Augustine movement from 1963 to 1965, working with both the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), earning positions within those organizations. Hayling marched alongside activists of all backgrounds — from icons like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Andrew Young to locals like Barbara Vickers and the St. Augustine Foot Soldiers.

Facing Resistance and Danger

Dr. Hayling's unwavering resistance to institutional racism caused him to become a notorious member of the St. Augustine movement. White segregationists spitefully hated him, and many people within the Black community questioned his bold approach. During their years in St. Augustine, he and his family endured ridicule, threats, mob violence, and gun violence from White supremacist groups like the KKK or the local Ancient City Gun Club / Manucy's Raiders.

A black and white photo. Dr. R.B. Hayling stands in the foreground, in the middle of speaking intensely. Behind him, a group of fellow Civil Rights Activists sit, looking out of frame.
In this picture from July 23rd, 1965, Dr. Robert B. Hayling (right) stands to address Florida Governor W. Haydon Burns about the struggles faced by African American Floridians.

Also pictured (left to right)are B.J. Johnson (representing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.), Mrs. Loucille Plummer (a St. Augustine resident), and John Due (an attorney).

Image courtesy of Florida Memory.

Later Life and Legacy

In 1965, Hayling moved his family to Cocoa, Florida, and continued to work as a dentist. He remained active in the Florida civil rights community throughout his life. In 2013, the city of St. Augustine awarded Dr. Hayling by inducting him into the Order of La Florida, which is the highest honor a citizen can receive. A year later, he was inducted into the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame. On December 20, 2015, Dr. Hayling died in Fort Lauderdale, Florida at the age of 86. As the sun set on his storied life, Robert B. Hayling was remembered by his family and his community.

A group of older Black people, all veterans of the US Civil Rights Movement, pose for a picture during their reunion. Dr. R.B. Hayling is seen in a blue shirt on the right side of the picture.
Dr. Hayling (far right, blue shirt) with a group of Florida Civil Rights Activists during a reunion in Miami, circa 1997.


Online Resources

  • Tap here to watch an oral history interview of Dr. Robert B. Hayling, courtesy of the Library of Congress.
  • Tap here to read the Washington Post article  "Beaten by the Klan in 1963, a black man just spoke to the white pastor who helped rescue him.”
  • Tap here to read the Florida Times-Union article "Civil rights hero Hayling given St. Augustine's highest honor,” by Peter Guinta.
  • Tap here to read Dr. Hayling's Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame bio.

From the ACCORD Museum website:

Further Reading

  • St. Augustine, Florida, 1963-1964: Mass Protest and Racial Violence, edited by David Garrow, 1989.