50 years later, a look at how St. Augustine changed the nation

Racial demonstrations in St. Augustine gave momentum to Civil Rights Act


ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – The eyes of the nation were on one Florida city 50 years ago this month. Racial demonstrations in St. Augustine captured the nation's attention, and gave momentum to the Civil Rights Act.

A 1964 video was a training video for state troopers, but it's also an account of mounting racial tensions in St. Augustine.

"In the early spring of 1964, local negroes began civil rights demonstrations," said the video. "Some 20 persons were injured including a trooper shot by a pellet gun."

The man behind these demonstrations is one of the latest inductees into the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame.

"Dr. Hayling actively embraced the growing cause of civil rights," according to the video.

Now 85, Dr. Robert Hayling said 50 years later, much still remains to be done.

"Some improvement. Some," said Hayling, which he said was not near enough.

"The group of whites attacked about 75 integrationists during the wade-in demonstration," the video said.

Hayling credits beach demonstrations for opening the beaches to people of color.

"It gave us a portion of our civil rights for the usage of the beaches, which were public facilities," said Hayling.

"A Danish cameraman taking motion pictures of the violence was beaten by a shirtless white youth," the video continued.

Because the nation was watching, television cameramen were often the targets of white demonstrators.

With the nation watching and the Senate unsure of what to do with civil rights, the nightly pictures of demonstrators and violence in St. Augustine tipped the balance.

When the Civil Rights Act of 1964 finally went to the president, demonstrations were suspended.

Despite numerous honors, Hayling said demonstrators still haven't gotten what they wanted when demonstrations began, which was a biracial commission to solve problems.