ST AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- One man could soon receive the highest award the city of St Augustine can give: the Order of La Florida.
Only eight living people can hold the honor at one time and a spot just opened up. Now, the man known for ending discrimination in the nation's oldest city is in line to get the award.
Flashback to the 1960s, like many other cities, S. Augustine was divided. There were "whites only" signs and segregated water fountains.
"Segregated libraries. Segregated schools," said historian David Nolan.
And in the heat of racial inequality, Dr. Robert Hayling moved to St Augustine. Nolan says he immediately started protesting here.
"He was brutally beaten at a Ku Klux Klan rally in 1963, and they knew he was a dentist so they concentrated on breaking his fingers."
Nolan says in 1964, his house was shot, his wife narrowly escaped death. But he didn't give up, even convincing Dr. Martin Luther King Junior to come to the city.
"St. Augustine became the stage then for a great moral drama enacted before a world audience to show what was wrong with the segregated way of doing things. And the result of that was the landmark civil rights act of 1964," said Nolan.
Because of his contributions to the nations oldest city and the nation, Vice Mayor Nancy Sikes-Kline nominated him for the highest possible honor a city can give: The Order of La Florida.
"I thought it was very fitting we would bestow on Dr. Hayling the highest citizenship honor for his role," she said.
If awarded, Dr. Hayling will be the first African American to join the ranks. Dr. Hayling, 83, now lives in Fort Lauderdale. He told Action News he was unaware he was being nominated but is humbled and appreciative of the recognition he's received.
"I'd hate to think what St Augustine or America would be like if there had been no Dr. Hayling," Nolan said. "How much longer would it have gone on?"
The nomination had been submitted to the city manager. A period of time has to pass to allow time for objections. If there are none, it will go to the city commission for a vote. That vote has to be unanimous.