St. Augustine would become a battleground for the Civil Rights movement in 1963, earning the title that summer of “The Long Hot Summer.”
Dr. Robert Hayling, a local African-American dentist and president of the Florida Dental Association, joined the fight for equality when the he was denied entering a facility for a dental association meeting at white hotel. He then began organizing the St. Augustine civil rights movement.
At one point, Hayling was attacked after venturing too close to a Klu Klux Klan rally. The doctor was later convicted of assaulting a Klansman.
Inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Hayling organized youth protests by sending them into whites only local restaurants. In one such incident, four African-American teens were arrested for trying to order food and were sentenced to one year in reform school. The case drew national attention, putting St. Augustine in the spotlight of racial unrest.
“St. Augustine is merely a symbol of an expression of the tragedies that engulf our whole nation in the area of race relations,” said Dr. King.
The protests reached a fever pitch in 1964, and violence erupted in the historic city. Many of the beatings were egged on by the KKK.
What took place in St. Augustine would eventually lead to the Civil Right Acts of 1964.
“The purpose of the law is simple. It does not restrict the freedom of any American. It does say that there are those who are equal before God shall now also be equal in the polling booths, in the classrooms, in the factories, in hotels, restaurants and movie theaters, others places that provide services to the public,” stated the President.