Wayne Gazelle Fields is very proud of his late father, Dr. Julius Gazelle Fields. Dr. Fields was a Black man and native son of St. Augustine, born in 1921 to Ruben Homer Fields and Annie Mae Hankerson. Growing up in the African American community of Lincolnville, he attended the segregated West Augustine School Elementary School No. 6 and Excelsior High School, and graduated from Florida Memorial College, which was then located in West Augustine.
“My father was a child of segregated St. Augustine, where people of color at that time were not expected to achieve much,” Wayne Fields said in a telephone interview from his home in Gainesville. “But my dad proved them wrong.”
After graduating from Florida Memorial, Fields was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Army, where he served in the Philippines in World War II and was wounded. Receiving the Purple Heart, he was discharged as a captain, returned home and attended Fisk University in Nashville and then Meharry Medical College to study dentistry.
After medical school, Dr. Fields returned home to St. Augustine to set up his practice in the large Victorian home of his mother Annie Fields, at 82 Bridge St. in Lincolnville in the city in 1951.
The home was sold to the city after the death of Mrs. Fields and was demolished to build a parking lot.
According to local historian David Nolan, the intersection of Bridge and Oneida Streets was the medical and dental center of Lincolnville for the first two-thirds of the twentieth century, with the offices of several dentists and physicians.
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St. Augustine civil rights leader and fellow dentist Dr. Robert Hayling, who came to the city in 1960, had his office at 79 Bridge St. Hayling also attended Meharry Medical College.
“My dad developed a clientele of patients that were of mixed races. This was when St. Augustine was absolutely, positively segregated,” Wayne Fields said. “But he was one of the best dentists in the area. So both Black and white people went to him.
“Men like my dad and Dr. Hayling and all the other Black professionals in the town were the heart of their community during segregation,” Fields continued.
St. Augustine City Commission recognized Dr. Fields
Earlier this year, the St. Augustine City Commission recognized Dr. Fields and his place in the community with a proclamation honoring him in celebration of National Dentist Day.
“Today we are gathered with the family of Dr. Fields to recognize and acknowledge and honor Dr. Julius Gazelle Fields in celebration of National Dentist Day, March 6, 2022. Recognizing Dr. Fields as an African American dentist serving both African American and Caucasian patients during segregation in St. Augustine until his death in 1967,” Vice Mayor Nancy Sikes-Kline said during the presentation.
According to his family, Dr. Fields also played a part in St. Augustine civil rights protests in the 1960s.
“Dad met Dr. Martin Luther King when he came to town, and fully supported his and the other protesters’ efforts,” Wayne Fields said. “He worked hard to integrate the beaches.”
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It is a tragedy that he died so young
“The story of Dr. Fields is one that needs to be told. This is a man who was a product of segregated St. Augustine. A man who went through county schools, served his county and then returned to serve his community.” said his cousin Derek Boyd Hankerson. “And he did not have to do that. It is a tragedy that he died so young.”
Fields was 45 when he died of a heart attack on April 30, 1967.
“My father died when I was 13 years old. He was fearful because he was a civil rights activist that if he went under it was a good possibility that he wouldn’t survive. So a simple clogged artery, which could have been cleared with a heart angioplasty, took his life,” Wayne Fields said.
Although long gone, Dr. Fields’ legacy is still remembered in his family.
Wayne Fields is a former star football player for the University of Florida and business owner who now runs a nonprofit to help youth and minority businesses.
Derek Hankerson’s brother, Dr. James Gazelle Hankerson is an anesthesiologist in Tampa.
“People like Dr. Fields are still an inspiration,” said Hankerson. “He deserves to be remembered.”