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St. Augustine’s highest and most prestigious award, the Order of la Florida, was presented to long time civil rights activist, Dr. Robert B. Hayling by members of the St. Augustine City Commission during the 40th ACCORD’s Seventh Annual Freedom Trail Luncheon held on July 2.
Created in 1975 as a way for the city to recognize those who have “contributed extraordinary services to our community,” the commission has voted to present the Order of La Florida award on just 18 other occasions. Hayling is also a recipient of the City of St. Augustine’s other award, the de Avilés Award, which he received in 2011. Hayling is the only person to receive both the de Avilés Award and the Order of La Florida Award.
Participating in the presentation were Mayor Joe Boles, Commissioner Roxanne Horvath, and Vice Mayor Nancy Sikes-Kline who originated the nomination for Hayling. Commissioners Leanna Freeman and Don Crichlow were unable to attend.
"We make this presentation to a person who means a great deal to us," said Boles in making the presentation, adding "some of us on a very personal level because of many years of friendship, but certainly to all of us because of our high regard for his sacrifices and his achievements which have enriched our city."
As has become customary at Order of La Florida and de Aviles Award presentations, the names of all former recipients are read as part of the program, and on this occasion the mayor read the names concluding with "and today we add the name of Robert B. Hayling to this list," to which the audience offered a standing ovation.
Since she originated the Hayling nomination, Vice-Mayor Nancy Sikes-Kline was invited by Mayor Boles to read the award's inscription:
The City of St. Augustine awards the highest honor within its power to bestow, the historic Order of La Florida, to Dr. Robert B. Hayling in recognition of Extraordinary contributions to the advancement of civil rights through his boundless courage, strength of leadership, and exemplary actions that demonstrate the finest qualities of citizenship and commitment to a more just community for all people. Presented in the name of a grateful citizenry by the City Commission of St. Augustine
Hayling, a native of Tallahassee, graduated from Florida A & M College in 1951 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology and just two months after graduation, enlisted in the United States Air Force. Hayling graduated from the Air Force Officer’s Candidate School achieving the rank of First Lieutenant prior to his honorable discharge. During his service in the Air Force, Hayling married his former classmate and college sweetheart, Athea L. Wake.
Hayling earned his Doctor of Dental Surgery degree in 1960 from Meharry Medical College School of Dentistry and soon began his practice in St. Augustine becoming the first Black dentist in Florida to be elected to the local, regional, state, and national components of the American Dental Association.
Although St. Augustine was a segregated city, Hayling’s dental practice was integrated and flourished from the beginning. Led by his own sense of justice, Hayling actively embraced the growing cause of civil rights serving for nearly a year as the head of the St. Augustine Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and as an adult advisor to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Youth Council.
By 1963, racial tensions had reached a violent threshold in St. Augustine. Hayling's home was attacked by gun shots that resulted in killing of the family's pet boxer within his home. His wife, while pregnant with his third daughter, barely escaped bodily injury. Hayling and three other companions were abducted off of US Hwy 1 while parked, viewing a major Klan rally in an open field. They were taken into the rally at gunpoint. Hayling was severely beaten resulting in two weeks in the hospital recuperating from a loss of eleven teeth and several broken ribs.
By the summer of 1964, the Civil Rights Movement in St. Augustine took center stage with the national news media’s coverage of the arrival of some of the movement’s most prominent leaders including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who was arrested for his participation, along with Hayling, for non-violent protests.
Hayling’s early and steadfast leadership in the cause of civil rights in St. Augustine has been recognized in many ways in recent years, including the renaming of the street where he once lived to Dr. Robert B. Hayling Place; 2012 Recipient of the Florida A & M University Distinguished Alumni Award; Florida Memorial University’s Nathan W. Collier Meritorious Service Award recognizing his “courage, vision, fortitude, and service on behalf of mankind”; and namesake of the Dr. Robert B. Hayling Award of Valor, created by then Florida Senator Tony Hill, in Hayling’s honor.
Hayling, was the keynote speaker for the Florida Black Legislative Caucus 2011 Distinguished Speaker Series during that group's Black History Program at the Florida State Capitol. To see a video of Hayling's address, delivered in the chamber of the Florida House of Representatives, click here.
Hayling continues his work in the cause of civil rights by seeking to educate others of the struggles that brought about change, including his strong support of the 40th ACCORD’s Freedom Trail, a series of historical markers identifying locations and sharing information regarding significant events in St. Augustine during the Civil Rights Movement. In fact, it was the impact of many of those events that spurred the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act by Congress.
The Order of la Florida was created in 1975 by the St. Augustine City Commission, to “acknowledge, recognize and honor persons who have distinguished themselves by unselfishly devoting their time and talents to the betterment and welfare of our citizens and our heritage, and who have, over a long period of time, contributed extraordinary services to our community.”
Roster of recipients of the Order of La Florida
(Presentation dates in parenthesis, * denotes deceased recipients.)
Henry W. McMillan* (05.28.75)
Herbert E. Wolfe* (02.15.77)
John D. Bailey (02.15.77)
Albert C. Manucy* (05.09.83)
Lawrence Lewis, Jr.* (01.29.84)
Eleanor Phillips Barnes* (08.26.86)
Xavier Lopez Pellicer, Sr.* (01.27.87)
Clarissa Anderson Gibbs* (01.27.87)
Luis Rafael Arana* (12.13.88)
Eugene Lyon (10.26.92)
Edward G. Mussallem (03.26.94)
Jerome George Kass* (10.05.97)
Kenneth Beeson* (05.14.01)
William L. Proctor (08.24.01)
Michael Gannon (09.18.07)
Kathleen Deagan (09.18.07)
Frank D. Usina & Elizabeth K. Usina (09.14.09)
H. L. “Herbie” Wiles (04.22.13)
Robert B. Hayling (07.02.13)
For more information about the Order of la Florida Award, contact the Public Affairs Department at 904.825.1004.