1963 was a tumultuous year in the United States. It was at this time the Civil Rights Movement really heated up, and no where was hotter than St. Augustine Florida, a community that was instrumental in the battle for equality.
Things got tense when a dentist and ex-Army officer,Dr. Robert Hayling became the first Negro member of the Florida State Dental Society. He joined the Civil Rights struggle after the dental group was denied meeting facilities at white hotels and restaurants because of his membership.
The pervious summer, Dr. Hayling and an associate were badly beaten by KKK members when they ventured too close to a Klan rally. Ironically, when the case was tried, Hayling was convicted of assault on the Klansmen. His appeal was pending in 1963.
Inspired by the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., Hayling organized local youths and began sending them into local whites-only restaurants. On a hot July day in 1963, 14 year old Samuel White, 15-year old Audry Nell Edwards, 16 year old Willie Carl Singleton and 16 year-old JoeAnn Anderson went up to the Woolworth’s lunch counter and tried to order a hamburger and a coke.
The group was arrested and sentenced to one year in reform school. This harsh sentencing of peaceful children drew local and national outrage, putting a new spot light on St. Augustine’s 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 Martin Luther King, Jr.