History Facts: May 2009, I, AJ Brown a 2nd Generation Highwaymen Artist, and assistant secretary, was officially appointed in office by the Originals, became the first Highwaymen Secretary. The charitable office was authorized to perform all major duties inherited the official title of secretary. My service as the first By-Laws Committee member was another rewarding office of honor. "Reaffirmed into Highwaymen history," services to the organization is a part of Highwaymen history. Both generations unified as a group and formed the first official historic 501(c)3 organization. The Original Highwaymen, Mary Ann Carroll was elected as the first President. Florida Highwaymen Artists and History Center Incorporated was a name given by James Gibson. Our goal was to open the first Highwaymen museum. November 2009, as a group the Original Highwaymen, voted and agreed to preserve Florida’s historic art tradition, with the 2nd Generation movement, which included blood and non-blood, friends and family. A tradition which dates the 1950s with mostly men, women are rare. Mentored by Legendary Hall of Fame Original Florida Highwaymen, Johnny Lee Daniels a 40-year veteran, “I was honored when he asked me, to be his trusted business partner, I accepted." His second Highwaymen Art Gallery was located at 1725 Okeechobee Road in Fort Pierce, Florida. When his life was cut short, his death was difficult to understand and left some asking why?
Johnny proudly supported my career as a 2nd Generation and would always say "just keep on painting!" And so I have. I learned by watching Johnny and practiced the nature gift from God. Original Highwaymen James Gibson was first to teach me to paint the Red Royal Poinciana trees and moon-lite night scenes for two years before his busy schedule suggested I paint with Johnny Daniels. Although I did not realize it at the time becoming a part of Gibson's legacy was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Backyard painting with Original Highwaymen Al "Blood" Black, Willie Daniels and sometimes Carnell "Pete" Smith, was an honor. I studied subjects by A. E. Backus, Hair, Newton and the Daniels brothers. Willie Daniels and I mentored my granddaughter Salsa at age nine, ten, and eleven as a 4th generation heritage, her archived collection dates back to 2009. Al Black was the top salesman for the group, which made learning the business from the man himself a humbling experience. Al Black and I spent nearly three years painting together in his famous backyard. Al and I took to the highways and on numerous occasions, Al introduced me as a 2nd Generation Highwaymen, another once in a lifetime experience! We traveled the highways of Florida and sold art along the side of the road, door to door and business to business, out of the trunk of his car, it was just like old times!
During the 1960s, 70s and 80s although doodling, coloring and painting through-out childhood offered pleasant gratification, a more serious interest wasn't particularly gained until the early 1990s.
As an adult, my first mural was on the bedroom wall in Pembroke Pines, Florida a scene called Eleuthera, Bahamas.
Other paintings were on tables and chairs. Born in Virginia, raised in Miami's Historic Over-Town, Fort Pierce, Florida was my second home since childhood. Our family's roots begin in a place we call home, the southern state of Florida in the northern city of Tallahassee. Raised by a single mother and grandmother, they were both multi-talented. Grandmother, Ida Mae Francis Black was an artist herself, she had the gift from God. A multiracial heritage of white, black and Seminole.
Her grand-ma D-Eye raised her and helped her raise her children was a full-blood Seminole Indian. Part of the story told is D-Eye would move her jet black hair to the side, just to keep from sitting on it, a known commonality among Indians.
Grandmother married German Jones, and they were very much in love. Grandfather was a young man but one day, while on his way to work he suddenly fell dead with a heart attack. Her first heartbreak, grandmother knew there would never be another quite like him. Her white blood-line gene was strong, her long black hair and white skin dominated her appearance as white. As a child, growing-up with grandmother, the color of her skin never dawned on me' and I never realized she was anything other than my grandmother, whom I loved dearly.
Grandmother was born in Tallahassee in 1914. During the early 1940s, she raised six mixed children. One day, she and her siblings were forced to leave their home, by the KKK. The proud loving mother was threatened and for the protection of her multiracial family relocated. Three daughters mixed with Indian and black, one daughter dominated the black gene, one white son and one black son. Her kids took on her heritage and each of her traits. During the 1930s and '40s mixing the races placed her in violation of the Jim Crow Law's, and raising a family of six on her own made life not only difficult but dangerous.
As kids grandmother, asked us to paint her statues of Mother Mary, and two soldiers, she said they represented her two sons. It was the beginning of other projects she would ask us to paint. Her white son was left living in Rochester NY, with a white a family, never to be seen again. Her black son, Spec 4 Paul Jones was killed in Vietnam action three weeks before he was to return home, never saw his 21st birthday.
Summer vacations were spent in Fort Pierce Florida, 2513 avenue J, with auntie and uncle. A long-time respected member of the community, my uncle owned a stucco business. In the ’60s, attending fourth grade at Means Court Elementary, while living with a second aunt and uncle, was a different experience than Miami.
Although the Highwaymen did not receive fame until the 1990s, during the ’60s, uncle supported the young black artists by purchasing a collection of their art. Harold Newton on black velvet, Alfred Hair, Livingston Roberts and Mary-Ann Carroll who traded her art for uncle's stucco services. Raised with Highwaymen art, uncle Alfred offered my first childhood introduction, each summer vacation was spent in Fort Pierce.
A destiny that seemed to be all in God’s plan, lead to a life-changing career. On long hot summer days, I was drawn to the vivid colors and imagined myself in the paintings which told stories of life growing up in the deep south.
Within the family history, there are empty spaces of long lost bloodline relatives, who we know to exist or existed but lost connections. A host of dynamics are reasons why many were never connected. The family names are Black, Williams, and Jones. It is a struggle to discover family roots but crucial to complete the family tree.
Years later, grandmother stopped traveling the roads of Florida. She and part of her family settled in Fort, Pierce Florida, and later she and a few siblings moved deeper south and settled in Over-town Miami and several surrounding areas.
As a Blue Star mother of two, who fought and served Iraq and Korea, we are a Gold Star family. Rooted in a long line of soldiers over decades our family has served the United States Army, Air Force, and Marines. To those who lost their lives, a hero is remembered!