Dr Robert B Hayling

I never met the man personally although I had been in his presence at a number of events in recent years – the dedication of the foot soldier sculpture, the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act when some of the rabbis returned to St Augustine and at the commission meetings when he was awarded honors on several occasions.

The memorial was held today at Reverend Rawls’ St Paul AME Church and it was a full house.  The most notable and known speaker was Mayor, Congressman, Reverend Andrew Young but everyone who spoke sent chills down your spine – especially the contemporary of Dr Hayling who was almost beaten to death alongside the doctor during a KKK attack in St Augustine.

A young black man who lives and works in Jax had met Dr H two years ago having never heard of him of previously.  He was at a civil rights banquet and was surprised when everyone stood as Dr H entered the room.  They became friends and whenever the doctor was in St Augustine Eric would drive him around.  Recently he took Dr H to see the cemetery that had undergone a major cleanup and which the doctor had not seen in many years.  They stopped alongside the graves of members of the KKK and Dr H asked Eric to stop the car.  He got out, stood over the tombstones, bowed his head and said a prayer for these men who had beaten him and many other black citizens. When he returned to the car he said that everyone deserved forgiveness.

When the shooter killed the people in the AME church in Charleston, Rev Rawls opened the church so everyone could sort out their feelings and before the end of all the interfaith preaching (clergy members from many churches were in attendance and they all spoke), he asked that we also pray for the shooter and his family.  And I believe most everyone did.

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