Wayne Gazelle Fields is very proud of his late father, Dr. Julius Gazelle Fields. Dr. Fields was a black man and a native St. Augustine son, born in 1921 to Ruben Homer Fields and Annie Mae Hankerson. Growing up in the African-American community of Lincolnville, he attended West Augustine School #6 Elementary School 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 the time weren’t expected to achieve much,” Wayne Fields said in a phone interview from his home in Gainesville. “But my father proved them wrong.”
After graduating from Florida Memorial, Fields was commissioned into the United States Army, where he served in the Philippines during 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 his mother Annie Fields’ grand Victorian home at 82 Bridge St. in Lincolnville in the city in 1951.
The house was sold to the city after Mrs. Fields died 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 during the first two-thirds of the 20th 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 mixed-race patients. That was when St. Augustine was absolutely, positively separate,” Wayne Fields said. “But he was one of the best dentists around. So black people and white people went to see him.
“Men like my father and Dr. Hayling and all the other black professionals in town were at the heart of their community during segregation,” Fields continued.
The St. Augustine Municipal 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 on National Dentists’ Day.
“Today we are gathered with the family of Dr. Fields to recognize and honor Dr. Julius Gazelle Fields on National Dentist’s Day, March 6, 2022. Recognizing Dr. Fields as an African American dentist serving African American and Caucasian patients during isolation 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 role in the civil rights protests in St. Augustine in the 1960s.
“Dad met Dr. Martin Luther King when he came to town and fully supported his efforts and those of other protesters,” Wayne Fields said. “He worked hard to incorporate the beaches.”
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It’s a tragedy that he died so young
“The story of Dr. Fields needs to be told. He is a man who was a product of St. Augustine segregation. A man who came through county schools, served his county, then came back to serve his community.” says his cousin Derek Boyd Hankerson. “And he didn’t have to. It’s a tragedy that he died so young.”
Fields was 45 when he died of a heart attack on April 30, 1967.
“My dad died when I was 13. He was scared because he was a civil rights activist that if he got hit there was a good chance he wouldn’t survive. So a simple clogged artery, which could have been cleared with cardiac angioplasty, took his life,” Wayne Fields said.
Although long gone, Dr. Fields’ legacy lives on in his family.
Wayne Fields is a former University of Florida star football player and business owner who now runs a non-profit organization to help minority youth and businesses.
Derek Hankerson’s brother, Dr. James Gazelle Hankerson is an anesthesiologist in Tampa.
“People like Dr. Fields are always an inspiration,” Hankerson said. “He deserves to be remembered.”