Blazing the Trail:
The Story of the Florida Highwaymen

ABOVE: Harold Newton (1934-1994). Beautiful Backwater, not dated. Oil on Upson Board. Collection of Roger Lightle.
In 1958, a young African American high school student named Alfred Hair met local artist A.E. Backus, and soon an idea was kindled: creating an artistic path beyond the prevailing racial barriers of the times and toward a brighter, self-made future.
 
The experienced artist recognized the emerging talent in Hair, and remembering the spirit of altruism that helped him start his own career, he became a mentor. With training in art, audience, and business, Hair launched a movement. He invented a new business plan for himself and a group of friends, whom he taught to paint and to sell paintings up and down the Atlantic coast of Florida … from the trunks of their cars.

Meanwhile, Harold Newton was trying to make his way as an artist. He had heard of the white painter who lived at the end of Avenue C, that he was welcoming to all, and in 1955 he thought it might be worth a visit. What he learned from Backus transformed him — mastering scenes of the Florida landscape, watching the older artist work especially with a palette knife, being encouraged to bring his paintings for helpful critiques — it all inspired Newton to paint like never before.
 
The roadblocks faced during the years of racial segregation in the 50s and 60s were significant, but these enterprising artists were creative and persevered. With success, their number grew to more than two dozen, painting tens of thousands of works to meet the demand. They later became known as the Florida Highwaymen.

The original Highwaymen blazed their own trail by way of the arts. In 2004, they were recognized in the Florida Artists Hall of Fame, and in 2016, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture opened with 18 Highwaymen paintings in its collection, a testament to the inspiring story that began here.

   

THE ORIGINAL FLORIDA HIGHWAYMEN

In 2004, the State of Florida inducted the following
26 individuals in the
Florida Artists Hall of Fame as
the Original Highwaymen:

  
Curtis Arnett (1950-  )
Hezekiah Baker (1940-2007)
Al “Blood” Black (1947-  )
Ellis Buckner (1943-1991)
George Buckner (1942-2002)
Robert Butler (1943-2014)
Mary Ann Carroll (1940-  )
Johnny Daniels (1954-2009)
Willie Daniels (1950-  )
Rodney Demps (1953-   )
James Gibson (1938-2017)
Alfred Hair (1941-1970)
Issac Knight (1942-   )
R. L. “Robert” Lewis, Jr. (1941-   )
John Maynor (1948-2016)
R.A. “Roy” McLendon (1932-  )
Alfonso “Poncho” Moran (1930-2003)
Harold Newton (1934-1994)
Lemuel Newton (1950-2014)
Sam Newton (1948-  )
Livingston “Castro” Roberts (1942-2004)
Willie Reagan (1939-  )
Carnell “Pete” Smith (1950-2015)
Charles Walker (1946-  )
S. M. “Sylvester” Wells (1938-  )
Charles “Chico” Wheeler (1946-2019)

   
Alfred Hair (1941-1970)
Harold Newton (1934-1994)
Alfred Hair (1941-1970). Peach Cloud Morning, not dated. Oil on Upson Board.
Collection of Roger Lightle.
"The fame of the Highwaymen is in many ways inextricably linked to A.E. Backus. Without Backus, there might not have been a market - or an inspiration to paint those subjects - for the Highwaymen. Backus provided encouragement, guidance, money, and materials to many of these artists and those who knew him would say that he would have done the same for anyone who had walked through his door. He did, indeed, pave the way for the Highwaymen."

Catherine M. Enns, The Journey of The Highwaymen (2009).
SELECTED RESOURCES:

Alfred Hair and the Florida Highwaymen - Florida Artists Hall of Fame
https://dos.myflorida.com/cultural/programs/florida-artists-hall-of-fame/alfred-hair-and-the-florida-highwaymen/

Beatty, Bob. Florida’s Highwaymen: Legendary Landscapes. Orlando: The Historical Society of Central Florida, Inc., 2005.

"Celebrating Florida's Highwaymen, Historic Outsider Artists," 2018. http://www.authenticflorida.com/articles/things-to-do/celebrating-florida-s-highwaymen-historic-outsider-artists/

Christiansen, Tess. "The Florida Highwaymen: From the Roadside to the National Collection." Washington, DC: National Museum of African American History and Culture, 2017.
https://nmaahc.si.edu/explore/stories/collection/florida-highwaymen

Enns, Catherine M. The Journey of the Highwaymen. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2009.
"(The Journey of) The Highwaymen" - http://www.thehighwaymen.com/index.html

Fitch, Jim. “The Highwaymen.”  Antiques and Art Around Florida, Winter/Spring 1995, 133 & 139. http://www.aarf.com/fews9501.htm

Hambrick, Jack. The Highwaymen: Legends of the Road. Fort Pierce, FL: A. E. Backus Museum and Gallery, 2008. DVD.

Hambrick, Jack. The Highwaymen: Florida’s Outsider Artists. Harrington Park: Janson Media, 2003. DVD.

The Highwaymen Trail https://thehighwaymentrail.com/

Hurd, Gordon K. "Alfred Hair (1941-1970) - A charismatic businessman who created
a movement for Florida’s black artists." The New York Times, "Overlooked" Series, 2019.  https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/obituaries/alfred-hair-overlooked.html

Kuzmanovic, Natasha. Tropical Light: The Art of A.E. Backus. New York: Vendome Press, 2016.

Monroe, Gary. Mary Ann Carroll: First Lady of the Highwaymen. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2014.

Monroe, Gary. The Highwaymen Murals: Al Black’s Concrete Dreams. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2009.

Monroe, Gary. Harold Newton: The Original Highwayman. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2007.

Monroe, Gary. The Highwaymen: Florida’s African-American Landscape Painters. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2001.

Wadell, Lynn. "The Highwaymen, a School of African-American Artists Who Hawked Their Work on the Side of the Road." Washington, DC: Humanities, a publication of the National Endowment for the Humanities, September/October 2014, Volume 35, Number 5
https://www.neh.gov/humanities/2014/septemberoctober/statement/selling-art-the-side-the-road
  
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