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Dr. Robert Hayling, who fought for civil rights, remembered as leader and pioneer

January 19, 2016

Photo of Dr. Tucker
Marking history: Dr. Hayling stands in front of the July 2, 2014 opening of the ACCORD Civil Rights Museum in St. Augustine on the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act signing. The building is Dr. Hayling's former dental office. He stands with David Nolan, left, an author and historian and Dr. David Colburn, right, a historian and author.
Courtesy of Michelle Hearn, Museum of Florida History
Fort Lauderdale, Fla. — Dr. Robert Hayling, a leader during the civil rights movement and a dentist who faced backlash for integrating his office, died Dec. 20.

Dr. Hayling, sometimes called the “father” of St. Augustine, Florida’s civil rights movement, was a key figure in organizing peaceful protests supporting integration in the northeastern Florida city, which became a pivotal site during the movement.

With his role as a youth advisor with the NAACP, Dr. Hayling was influential in bringing Martin Luther King Jr. and his supporters to St. Augustine in 1964, where they led marches and protests that gained national attention. Later that year, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act. He endured threats and beatings during this time, and lost some patients at his integrated dental office when word spread that he was supporting integration, he told ADA News in 2015.

By 1966, he moved to Fort Lauderdale, where he was able to practice dentistry. He became the first African American in Florida to become a full member of the FDA, ADA and his district dental association. His former practice in St. Augustine is now a civil rights museum, and the street where he lived there is now named “Dr. Robert B. Hayling Place.”

“Dr. Robert Hayling’s dedication to serving organized dentistry and leading the civil rights movement has made a lasting impact on our profession, our state and our country,” said Dr. Ralph Attanasi, Florida Dental Association president.

Photo of Dr Tucker with Martin Luther King
Speaking out: Andrew Young, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Dr. Robert Hayling, far right, sit at a press conference in St. Augustine in 1964.
Photo by Frank Murray/Courtesy of ACCORD Civil Rights Museum
In June, the Florida Dental Association honored Dr. Hayling with a Special Recognition Award for his dedication to civil rights and to dentistry.

Dr. Hayling precedes in death three daughters, two grandsons, a sister, a brother, an adopted sister, a brother-in-law and nephews and nieces, said Gwendolyn Duncan, president emerita of the (ACCORD) Anniversary to Commemorate the Civil Rights Demonstrations, Inc. in St. Augustine, a group Dr. Hayling supported.

“Dr. Hayling was a great man and will be greatly missed.  He adopted our family as his own and we likewise since 2003. The day that I received notice of his passing, by his sister, a Christmas package arrived at my home from him to our family,” said Mrs. Duncan in an email.

A public tribute to Dr. Hayling was held Jan. 14 in the Rotunda of the Florida Capitol in Tallahassee, the city in which he was born.