Sitting in a dimly lit office crowded with signs and portraits, Wayne Fields’ voice bellows throughout the James L. Medlin House.
The walls of the historic city building have been a marker of Gainesville’s history since 1913. Now, it’s Fields’ office.
The 66-year-old East Gainesville resident was a UF football player, local radio celebrity and after-school sports coach.
Above all, Fields has committed himself to the education and development of Gainesville for 60 years. East Gainesville will always be Field’s home — even as university development continues to erode its Black history.
“Before I let go of this lifetime, there are a few things else that I'd like to do,” Fields said.
Much of his story ties back to his forming years.
His father was the first African American to practice dentistry in St. Augustine, Florida, and later taught at Flagler College. A civil rights activist, his father marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to desegregate the St. Augustine beaches. Julius died suddenly at 46 because of a heart attack linked to a clogged artery.
A simple procedure could have saved his life. But Fields’ father was paranoid that someone in the hospital would try to kill him because St. Augustine was a hotbed for the Ku Klux Klan.
In 1960, his mother later married Jerry Miller, who shared her love of music. Miller played the trombone on tour with Duke Ellington, and Geraldine played the xylophone on tour with jazz artist Lionel Hampton.
“When my stepfather came into my life, he was so influential,” Fields said. “He was a hunter. He was a farmer. He was an educator. Being Jerry C. Miller’s son was such a fruitful life growing up.”
Fields’ parents wanted him to delve into music in his early education, so he picked up the cello and bass violin.
His parents soon became band directors after founding the music department at Lincoln High School, Gainesville’s only all-Black high school until the 1970s. The family lived nearby, and Fields would often watch the school’s band rehearsals and sporting events.
Fields always wished to play sports for Lincoln High but never got the chance. With changing times came changing circumstances.
Faculty at the high school began to discuss integrating schools in the area.
In 1965, the first group of Black students from Lincoln High School were sent to Gainesville High School to desegregate the schools. At the time, Fields still attended the all-Black Joseph Williams Elementary School.
At the request of his parents, Fields switched over to Howard Bishop Middle School a year later as a rising seventh grader.
It was a foreign environment. He was one of only 25 to 30 other Black students. He also never had classes or made friends with white students until then.
“The one thing that was stressed is that we stay to ourself, stay to our own kind and don't intermix with the other white students,” he said.
Existing as a Black student in a white space took a toll on Fields.
“I had to prove that I was just as smart as my white counterparts — that I could read, that I could speak, that I could count, that I had an opinion,” he said.
The experience was foreign for white students, too. They reached out to touch his hair. They questioned him daily.
Why is your nose shaped the way it is? Why are your lips so thick? Does your skin color come off when you wash with a white cloth?
By the end of the 1960s, all Lincoln High School students were sent to Gainesville High School. Soon after, the Alachua County School Board closed down Lincoln High School entirely.
“I had already made an adjustment on getting along with whomever,” Fields said. “There were confrontations, as well, between the Black students who were already there and other Black students. Because you were looked at as being a sellout by going [to the white school].”
It wasn’t his choice to attend Gainesville High School. Other Black students didn’t understand that. However, he made the most out of his time.
His senior year, Fields was offered an athletic scholarship to UF for his achievements in track, basketball and football. He was also offered a music scholarship for his bass playing skills in the Gainesville String Orchestra but turned it down.
As one of UF’s first Black football players, he had to readapt to a new environment. The first two, Leonard George and Willie Jackson Sr., were in their senior year when Fields was a freshman.
Former UF football coach Doug Dickey recruited the top players in the state, regardless of color. This caused infighting, and Dickey clashed with segregationists to keep his athletes on the gridiron. The issue was so profound that UF president Stephen O’Connell was once a segregationist.
“You had to be in a location to where you were not welcome,” he said. “The N-word was, I thought that was my name. [It wasn’t] only the players, but the referees and the fans in the stands.”
But Fields fought to bridge the gap, as he had done his entire life. He helped found the Union of Black Athletes, which aided his peers with exam prep, hosted social events and ensured athletes stayed away from trouble.
Fields inched closer to his NFL dream. And it almost happened — until a knee injury in his last Spring ended his career.
The Gator, who was drafted as a defensive back by the Pittsburgh Steelers, returned to school and relived his undergraduate experience.
He majored in journalism and advertising and, to the delight of his musically talented parents, minored in classical music.
Fields would sneak out of his dorm room Friday nights — and even Saturday game days — and head over to Weimer Hall. He DJed for Willie Dozier and Charles Goston’s WRUF “The Funky Soul Show” on the weekends and later hosted his own segments.
And all those hours on the radio — and years studying — paid off. After college, Fields worked as a producer on WCJB TV20, WUFT 89.1, WMOP, COX Cable and Black Entertainment Television. He also owned a radio station, WONE-FM, from 1979 to 1988 with friends Rodney Long Jr. and Bill Feinberg.
Fields was soon branded “the radio guy.”
Even 30 years later, Carol Richardson, interim program coordinator for the A. Quinn Jones Museum, remembers Fields' on-air charisma.
“He was like a local star in Gainesville,” Richardson said. “When we were teenagers, we knew him as ‘Wayne Fields on radio.’”
Fields' education and background motivated Richardson to ask him to speak at an upcoming Sept. 23. The event at the Matheson History Museum is focused on Black education.
With a lengthy resume, Fields is a man of many trades. He also owns an advertising agency, Old Glory Rockets Advertising, which has promoted political campaigns since the ’90s for clients like Diyonne McGraw and Desmon Duncan-Walker.
Jerald Fields, Fields' second-oldest son, knows his father not only as a career-driven man but a supporter of his seven children.
Growing up, Jerald remembers how his father, who was also his coach, always supported him at his games for Amateur Athletic Union, a league to prepare youth for a professional basketball career. Fields also cheered on his other children at their sporting events.
The family once visited Charlotte, South Carolina, for one of his daughter’s track meets. They spotted professional boxer Evander Holyfield in the crowd. And Fields insisted the family ask Holyfield for a photo.
He badgered Holyfield until he turned around and said, “OK! That’s enough. Just give me a camera.”
But Fields had no camera. He rushed through the crowd until an audience member offered him one. He snapped a photo of the bunch with Holyfield — a memory he keeps to this day.
“That was just an incident of how he was,” Jerald said. “You can never tell him no. He was gonna always get it done.”
Even life couldn’t tell him no.
Like his father, Fields suffered a heart attack. He was pronounced dead, and his wife was called in to identify the body. But Fields survived and now has a new lease on life since the incident seven years ago.
“Because of that, I've tried to change my life in a positive way and try and tell the story of the success that we've been able to experience here,” Fields said.
Since his recovery, Fields has dedicated himself to his magazine, Minority Business Listings. It has been published annually since 2013, but the 2020 edition was canceled due to COVID-19. He hopes to release the 2021 edition in a few weeks.
He has changed trades over the years, but East Gainesville remained a constant in his life. He hasn’t moved from the city in six decades to preserve the community he knows and loves.
“It was like yesterday — as I close my eyes and try and remember — when we were downtown, and I was about 26 years old,” Fields said. “And we owned a radio station, and we owned the nightclub, and we owned a record store. And we were fighting for our existence, back then, and even today.”
A lifetime fighting for his existence. Where would he go? Why would he leave at this point, after all of these years?
Contact Jiselle Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jiselle_lee.
Jiselle Lee is a second-year journalism student and the East Gainesville Reporter. This is her second semester at The Alligator, and she is excited to continue her work at the Metro desk. In her spare time, she enjoys eating her way around Gainesville.