Celebrating Women's History In America
"The History Maker!" Mary Ann Carroll is an icon on the Highwaymen Heritage Trail and is the only female of the Original Highwaymen group of twenty-six. We met when she stopped for a visit; Johnny Daniels and I sat painting side by side. "Hey Johnny, how y'all doing," she said. "Hey, Ms. Mary Ann," Johnny responded; then, he introduced her to me. Our eyes met as we respectfully greeted each other. After a bit of small talk, she asked Johnny for a colleague's phone number and then asked me if I would write it down for her. "Sure," I responded. After the small talk, she wished us a good day and walked out of the gallery. She appeared humbled and a nice person. "She doesn't usually come in here," Johnny said, " I think she came to see you, A.J."
Although I did not realize it then, Ms. Mary Ann Carroll was one of the paintings I'd grown up with during summer vacations spent with uncle Alfred. Like most small towns, my uncle knew the painters, friends, and acquaintances, uncle supported their work and collected their art. He was the first to raise me with and introduce me to the painters. They were not Highwaymen, but regular neighbors in the same community, struggling to earn a living, as all Lincoln Park neighborhood blacks were. I had not seen the paintings for some time; as I began to remember, I quickly realized and understood that Ms. Mary Ann Carroll deserved the utmost respect for her lifetime of service and commitment to documenting authentic Florida's history. During the harsh era of Jim Crow days, she was the only female Highwaywoman to walk through segregation with her fellow Highwaymen artists.
During the 1950s, a group of black students painted Florida as an escape from poverty. Their vision developed during the segregation era and the Laws of Jim Crow. A prominent white landscape artist A.E. "Beanie" Backus, influenced Harold Newton and taught a young student named Alfred Hair to paint. Newton influenced many friends and tutored Mary Ann Carroll, the only original female. Hair influenced his family and friends, which included James Gibson. Years later, Gibson became the first original Highwayman to teach me, AJ Brown, to paint before introducing me to Johnny Daniels for additional painting lessons.
The self-taught painters were influenced by friends and family, blood and non-blood, the core root of what has sustained a culture that is now a brand. The history is now a legend. Twenty-six African Americans, all men, and one female (Mary Ann Carroll), endured racial tensions in the deep south of segregated times.
In a search to escape from poverty, the paintings were a way out. The practice helped keep food on the table for her kids. But no one could visualize that an upscale venture intended for whites only would become sustainable by an unlikely all African American group, whose endurance would grow into one of the most significant art movements in America's history of the 1950s.
On November 4, 2007, James Gibson's invitation to Fort Pierce Highwaymen Artists Hall of Fame, the Culture Affairs Council Re-dedication Ceremony was exciting. Gibson attended with his life-partner Estelle Dunn. I had known many Highwaymen, but others I met for the first time. So collecting autographs in my Highwaymen book was indeed a treat. From across the room, I noticed Ms. Mary Ann Carroll and made my way over to greet her to ask if she would sign my book? "Yes," she said. The practice was also made with the 2nd Generation, making the book a collector's item.
The page about her is one of the most significant because of how she signed it. The version of her story misrepresented her character; she felt the need to clarify her truth in my book. Women of color are often stereotyped by assumptions and perceptions, and we are rarely asked to tell our stories. Much has changed for black women since her 1950s heyday, but much has not. She was part of a unique group of all men; the only female they painted Florida for survival during a segregated time.
Like the Originals, the 1950s tradition of friends continued among the all African American group of friends, family, blood, and non-blood. Children of the Highwaymen and neighbors who lived in the Lincoln Park community became future Highwaymen, as did many of the Original Highwaymen. Born during the '50s and 60s, they became the next generation. Raised with Highwaymen art in the 1960s, in the '70s, uncle Alfred hired me, a high school student, as a stucco helper during summer vacations. He acquired a collection of Ms. Mary Ann's work when she hired him to stucco her home at 2901 Dunbar street. Her stamped signature adorns the back of the historic Upson boards.
Intertwined, both generations witnessed and personally experienced the racially charged incidents of the 1960s; police brutality was at the forefront. As a young girl, 1968 was a remember-able year; I watched as segregation played out on our family's black-and-white TV. As an adult, through relevant social media platforms, I watched those same atrocities play out in 2018. Unfortunately, the struggles of African Americans are one of the same.
In May 2009, decades passed, and for the first time in history, the Originals and the 2nd Generation united! They established the first "Official Historic 501'(c)3." "Florida Highwaymen Artists and History Center" was the name given with the persuasion of James Gibson.
Mary Ann Carroll was the first elected president, and as the assisted secretary, R.L. Lewis deligated his secretarial position to me. Authorized to perform all official duties, I became the first appointed official Highwaymen secretary and member of the by-laws committee. Both generations were included as board members, and several were appointed official positions. In a monumental era in time, the Highwaymen were at their best!
During my services and contributions to the group, Ms. Mary Ann and I became acquainted, and she grew fond of me. She brought her granddaughter to my house for playtime with my granddaughter Salsa; the two little girls got along well. On her return to pick up her granddaughter, Ms. Mary Ann stayed to visit me. There was no mistaking the two of us; she was the generation before me. I held the utmost respect and felt a sense of honor to work beside her.
After the by-laws business meetings, several of us shared many friendly meals and performed art shows as both generations unified. Ms. Mary Ann asked if I would assist as the secretary of her church. But, as the Highwaymen's secretary, Johnny's untimely death at the beginning of the unification. I was authorized to construct his grave-site monument. In addition, at the request of the Cultural Affairs manager, Jodi Bonet, to assist Stephanie Werner on the accuracy of the history of the Highwaymen Obelisk monument made time scarce.
Ms. Mary Ann Carroll was the first female of the first generation and the first to hold the honor of becoming the first president of the first historical 501(c)3 Highwaymen organization in the summer of 2009, an office designated only for an Original Highwaymen. Curious, she asked why I named her "Ms. First Lady." It was simply a small way of showing her appreciation, honor, and respect.
Privy to crucial information, members shared their deep-rooted history. Each member's characteristics and differences created an ever-changing group dynamics. Enormous responsibilities transformed my skills into quite the historian and reaffirmed a narrative that was now my own.
In the summer of 2011, according to the by-laws, came the end of Ms. First Lady's term of two years. The dynamics of the second 501(c)3 were controversial and non-traditional to the first 501(c)3; both generations continued the movement and hosted the group and independent shows to earn a living.
The eldest of Johnny Daniels, Ms. Mary Ann Carroll, and Johnny were both colleagues and friends. In 1970, when a few Highwaymen stopped painting and mourned the death of Alfred Hair, they both continued. As a primary source of income, the First Lady didn't have that luxury; she had seven children to feed. As a result, she has made significant life-long contributions. For decades, they both continued the movement and helped make Highwaymen Art what it is today, leaving no doubt they are core members of the group's history. At 54, the 40-year veteran of Highwaymen art, Johnny Daniels, died May 26, 2009. Highly respected, both generations paid their respects. Ms. First Lady Mary Ann sang one of Johnny's favorite songs, "Walk Around Heaven All Day." Multi-talented and blessed by God, she entertained the church of gatherers. Her gold standard voice could take her far and wide, but painting chose her.
One day, while maintaining Johnny's gravesite, Ms. Mary Ann happened to be at Pine Grove Cemetery at the same time as I was. She said to me, "My daughter is buried here." "I like what you did with Johnny's site, and someday I want you to do her gravesite"; I was astounded. She asked that we continue our discussion later, but life happened. Still, it is the good feelings and the fond memories that are always remembered the most.
Owned by the highest office of the land, the United States of America, Presidents have added several pieces of Florida's nostalgic art history to their private White House collections. James Gibson, Mary Ann Carroll, Johnny Daniels, and AJ Brown, to name a few, are a part of this history. In 2012, Fort Pierce City Hall and Florida Humanities Council invested in the history of the Highwaymen. They created the Highwaymen Trail and Fort Pierce Tours throughout the city, and the Highwaymen website is visited worldwide. All four Highwaymen mentioned above artists and many more are highlighted on these monuments as part of "Florida's Highwaymen History."
In the Best of the Original Highwaymen, in 2018, Ms. MaryAnn Carroll encountered a medical relapse; she continues to recover. With great admiration, love, and respect, stay inspired, stay encouraged. Ms. First Lady, you are in our prayers; warm regards well wishes to you, and all the best to your family.
Florida Highwaymen Artist Mary Ann Carroll, Loss Of A Legend, At 79
The First Lady of the Florida Highwaymen Artists, Ms. Mary Ann Carroll, was born in 1940. She celebrated her 79th birthday in November 2019 and departed the first week of the following December. It was unreal! A dreadful reality no one wanted to hear.
A legend for many reasons, loved by many, she has undeniably run her race, a journey for decades. She was the Generation before me; I, AJ Brown, witnessed her reign for nearly fifteen years. Truth, myths, and fantasy; books and stories were written by many. From museums to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., every "Highwayman" should have a friend and promotor like Gary Monroe. He offered her era and art movement a voice, a platform to be heard.
Mary Ann Carroll's most prestigious honor was raising her seven children and her distinction as the only female among the "Original Highwaymen Movement" of the 1950s. An African American male-dominated "Historic Art movement." A name they earned during the mid-nineties by Jim Fitch for the way they sold their art in Florida. Along the side of the road! He called them "The Highwaymen."
In the 1950s, the early years of the Highwaymen, the Jim Crow era was a time of segregation. Social injustice and race relations made America a problematic country to reside in for blacks. Yet, it was under the radar of those very racist conditions that the "Last Great Art Movement of the 20th Century," "The Highwaymen," "became the first African American art Movement" to cross over color barriers, selling substantial quantities of "Black Art" to white America.
The group reigned in the art world for over six decades. White America traditionally purchased hundreds of thousands of beautifully hand-painted colorful landscapes by the Florida Highwaymen and has generously kept this tradition still today. The Highwaymen are thankful that today, the world is more welcoming.
Indeed, the First Lady of Fort Pierce, Florida, Mary Ann Carroll, is grateful to all who have faithfully supported the Highwaymen. They are members of an elite club of "Highwaymen Collectors."
In the beginning, Harold Newton and Alfred Hair were the early Highwaymen. According to Ms. Mary Ann, Harold Newton gave her a start by teaching her to paint. Then, he handed down an invaluable tool from one friend to another. As a result, she could keep food on the table for seven children.
The early Highwaymen started in the 1950s and grew into an informal official art movement. Blood and non-blood, friends, and family became a tradition for the group. Two grew into twenty-six; they learned to paint from one another.
In 2004, decades later, twenty-six were chosen as the Original Highwaymen and were inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame in Tallahassee, Florida. Mary Ann Carroll was the sole female.
In 2009, in early May, for the very first time in history, I, AJ Brown, was a member when both groups, the Originals and the 2nd Generation, unified and organized. The 2nd Generation formed in 1973 but can be traced back to the 1960s. With a long tradition of blood and non-blood, friends and family, the 2nd Generation helped create some 200,000 oil paintings.
The First Lady of the Highwaymen, Mary Ann Carroll, became the first female elected as the first President of the first historical 501(c)3's by the most senior members of the Original group. The position of power was designated for the Original only, under the two-year By-Law rules.
On June 24, 2009, under Florida Highwaymen Artist and History Center Inc., the first 501(c)3 was formed and filed.
Mary Ann Carroll was the first and only President of the two 501(c)3's to confirm several members of the Historic 2nd Generation blood and non-blood, friends, and family to hold positions of official duties.
I, AJ Brown, was appointed and authorized to serve as Secretary and a member of the By-Laws Committee. It was a unique position and distinct honor to work side by side with the First Lady, Mary Ann Carroll. In 2011, under the second 501(c)3, Mary Ann Carroll became the Treasurer.
In May 2011, Mary Ann Carroll presented one of her paintings to First Lady Michelle Obama during the First Lady's Luncheon at the Congressional Club in Washington, D.C.
Like Mary Ann Carroll, she and I have met with the 44th Presidential history. But, instead of political, our visits were more of an honor. Our art history became a part of President Barack and First Lady Michelle Obama's private collection during their White House administration.
The education of "Florida Highwaymen Art History" is handed down from Generation to Generation. Legends and myths are taught throughout; the traditional pastime is illustrated and imitated worldwide.
"Queen of the Road" is what she called herself. Mary Ann Carroll helped make Highwaymen Art what it is today.
Let's then five minutes from my house is her house, another landmark stands out-front of her home.
A historic site I enjoy seeing during my drive on the way to morning walks and talks with God.
Her red and white mailbox, hand-painted by Mary Ann Carroll herself, reminds me of a time long ago, her time here on earth.
In her memory, a "Monument" fitting as a part of the Highwaymentrail, of Fort Pierce, Florida."
In her healthier years, I occasionally saw her painting on the side of her house, 3206 Juanita Avenue. Her welcomes were always warm, as I stopped to chat a few times.
Some posted us as rivals, but she was too iconic for that; she was a respected friend and colleague, and now she is like a fairytale. She will be greatly missed by many but never forgotten.
Forever Loved, Forever Remembered, Condolences.
With great admiration, sleep in peace,
Florida Highwaymen Historic 2nd Gen Artist AJ Brown