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SJR State Library

1619 - 2019: Commemorating 400 Years of African American History

The Road Well Traveled: Celebrating the Art and History of Florida’s Highwaymen
An Exhibit at St. Johns River State College

The Road Well Traveled - Celebrating the Art and History of the HighwaymenOriginating in the mid-1950s in Fort Pierce, the group of artists now known as the Florida Highwaymen was comprised of self-taught African American artists who created art depicting Florida’s natural beauty to sell as a means of freeing themselves from working in citrus groves and factories.

As the National Museum of African American History and Culture explains, "Unable to be represented in many of the whites-only galleries in Florida, the Highwaymen relied on a method of high-quantity sales of inexpensive paintings, usually for around $25 each. A technique of “fast painting,” with which the artists produced dozens of works each day provided the group a way to make a living from their art. The method’s quick strokes contributed to the impressionistic nature of the images, while an assembly line system allowed multiple paintings of similar scenes with unique details to be worked on at the same time."

From the mid-1950s to 1970, the Highwaymen created an estimated 200,000 works and have surpassed that number in the subsequent decades. After the murder of Alfred Hair in 1970, the group grew apart. However, some continued painting and there has been a renewed interest in their work since the 1990s"

That renewed interest began in 1995 when Jim Fitch wrote an article in which he declared, ""The Highwaymen" is a name I've given to a group of black artists working on the East coast of Florida from approximately 1955 to the present. So called because their marketing and sales strategy consisted of traveling the highways and byways of central Florida peddling their paintings out of the back of their cars."  Since then, interest in and recognition of the Florida Highwaymen has grown tremendously and their work can command thousands of dollars.

Gary Monroe is the scholar of note regarding this group of artists and, in 2001, he clarified, "there was never a school or movement. These artists didn’t even have studios... In fact, there really were no Highwaymen.... just an amorphous group of friends who found an alternative to toiling in the nearby fields and packing houses." In 2004, as a result of Gary Monroe's nomination, the 26 original Highwaymen were recognized by the State of Florida's Division of Cultural Affairs through induction into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame

The exhibit at SJR State will feature works by the following original Highwaymen: 

Curtis Arnett

Robert Butler

Alfred Hair

Hezekiah Baker

Mary Ann Carroll

Harold Newton 

Al Black 

Johnny Daniels

Lemuel Newton

George Buckner

Willie Daniels

Livingston Roberts


James Gibson


A work by A.E. "Bean" Backus, the artist who served as an inspiration to and a supporter, facilitator, and mentor of Alfred Hair, Harold Newton and the original Highwaymen, will also be included in this exhibition.

This exhibit is free and open to the public.  


Putnam County: Florida School of the Arts Gallery, October 17 - November 21 
5001 St. Johns Avenue, Palatka, FL 32177 | Phone: 386-312-4300

Opening Night: October 17, 2019   
Time: 7:00 p.m. 

Exhibit: October 18 - November 21  
The gallery is open Monday - Friday from 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.  

Painting Paradise: The Art of the Highwaymen presented by noted Highwaymen scholar Gary Monroe: October 29, 2019    
Time: 6:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.

Location: Florida School of the Arts, room 125

The Highwaymen Story presented by Florida School of the Arts: November 7, 2019  
Time: 5:30 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.   

Gallery Talk with SJR State Humanities Professor Cristy Furr: November 14, 2019    
Time: 5:30 p.m. - 7:00 p.m. 

Location: Florida School of the Arts, room 125


Past Events

Thrasher-Horne Gallery, August 22 - September 12, 2019 
283 College Drive, Orange Park, FL 32065 | Phone: 904-276-6815

Opening Night with Dr. Matt McAllister: August 22, 2019  
Time: 5:30 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.  

Exhibit: August 23 - September 12 
The gallery is open Monday - Friday from 11:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. 

The Highwaymen Story presented by Florida School of the Arts: September 12, 2019    
Time: 5:30 p.m. - 7:00 p.m. 

St. Johns County: St. Augustine Campus Library, September 19 - October 9 
2990 College Drive, St. Augustine, FL 32084 | Phone: 904-808-7474

Opening Night with Professor Cristy Furr: September 19, 2019  
Time: 5:30 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.  

Exhibit: September 20 - October 9 
The exhibit is open Sunday from 1:00 - 5:00, Monday - Thursday from 8:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m., and Friday 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. 

The Highwaymen Story presented by Florida School of the Arts: September 26, 2019   
Time: 5:30 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.   

Gallery Talk with SJR State Humanities Professor Cristy Furr: October 3, 2019 
Time: 5:30 p.m. - 7:00 p.m. 

Location: L-112

Painting Paradise: The Art of the Highwaymen presented by noted Highwaymen scholar Gary Monroe: October 8, 2019    
Time: 6:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.

Location: J-149

Resources for Further Exploration - The Florida Highwaymen

Online Resources

FLORIDA HIGHWAYMEN: From the Roadside to the National Collection - from the National Museum of African American History & Culture.

The Highwaymen: Speed-Painting In The Sunshine State - from NPR.

Overlooked - Alfred Hair - Published in 2019, the New York Times gives Alfred Hair the recognition he should have received earlier.

Celebrating Florida's Highwaymen, Historic Outsider Artists - An introduction to the Highwaymen and the influence of A.E. Backus.

Brush with Fame - An interview with James Gibson from 2012.

How did Florida’s Highwaymen artists succeed despite segregation? - A video of an interview with Mary Ann Carroll.

The Highwaymen Trail - This site provides a biography of each artist and details about life at the time in Fort Pierce.

The Highwaymen - This is the first article written about the Highwaymen. It appeared in the Winter/Spring 1995 issue of Antiques & Art Around Florida. 

A.E. Backus Museum & Gallery  

Books at the SJR State Library
Books may be checked out by community patrons as well as SJR State students, faculty, and staff. If a title is located at another campus, the book may be sent to another campus upon request.

Florida Frontiers: The Highwaymen Artists

Season 2, episode 126 of Florida Frontiers is about the Highwaymen and features commentary from Gary Monroe and interviews with several artists including Isaac Knight, Al Black, and Mary Ann Carroll whose paintings are among those to be exhibited this fall at SJR State.

Celebration • Education • Reflection

H.R.1242/Public Law 115-102, the 400 Years of African American History Commission Act, establishes 2019 as a year of "commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Africans in the English colonies, at Point Comfort, Virginia, in 1619."  The commemoration is intended “to recognize and highlight the resilience and contributions of African-Americans since 1619; to acknowledge the impact that slavery and laws that enforced racial discrimination had on the United States; and to educate the public about the arrival of Africans in the United States; and the contributions of African-Americans to the United States.” In recognition of this commemoration and with the Act serving as a guide, the SJR State Library has organized a year-long series of events that will provide educational experiences and resources to students and the community that celebrate the history and culture of African Americans.

Site created and maintained by Dr. Christina Will. Pages will be added and maintained throughout 2019.
Maintenance will cease at the end of 2019 but this site will remain accessible.