Highwaymen Heritage Trail

Commemorating the Life and Journey of Johnny Lee Daniels

The Highwaymen Heritage Trail

Celebrating Black History

Johnny "Hook" Daniels was born July 22, 1954, in Quincy, Florida. He lived his life in the deep south of Fort Pierce, Florida, during the 1950s and ’60s, a racially charged era of the Civil Rights Movement. A veteran painter of 40 years, Johnny initially made frames for the group, a short time later he began his painting career as a young teen. Johnny was the youngest of the earliest core Florida Original Highwaymen. Johnny Daniels died on May 26, 2009. Daniels helped make Highwaymen Art the movement it is today.

In the mid-sixties, Johnny Daniels started his journey by making frames for the group of painters; but was not happy with his earnings. He soon began to paint by watching his older brother Willie Daniels. Whenever Willie took breaks, stepped away from his scenes, or wasn't looking, Johnny took the opportunity to practice his skills inside Willie's work. Johnny also enjoyed watching one of his friends Livingston Roberts create his masterpieces. Willie was not fond of his younger brother's habits, one day, Willie decided to take Johnny to the fields to pick oranges. He made enough money to buy his own art supplies and never stopped painting! Johnny earned his place in the world of art history. In 2004, Florida Original Highwaymen Johnny Daniels was inducted into the Florida Artist Hall of Fame.

A Legend of the Road, during the early years, of the 1950s and '60s, the Civil Rights Movement was a racially charged era. Shunned for the color of their skin, museums and galleries would not showcase their work, because they were black, during the Jim Crow Days. So, they sold their work along the side of US One and A1A. The trunks of their cars served as their office, and they displayed work that attracted locals and tourists. They used crown molding as frames and Upson board as a canvas. Tree trunks were used as easels since makeshift materials were the only supplies they could afford. On the road was a hard life, $25 or $35 dollars a painting, colorful authentic Florida scenes sold, even when they were still wet! The name Highwaymen was earned in the mid-'90s because of the way they sold their paintings door to door and business to business, banks, and offices alike. The African American group's impact was great! Economically, socially, culturally, and geographically, and remain sustainable to this day.

Johnny Daniels was a pioneer and his life, a historic teaching journey. Although no heirs painted, like the icons of his time, A.E. Backus, Harold Newton, and Alfred Hair, Johnny handed down his heritage to friends, family, blood, and non-blood. He invested countless years in their careers; five Florida Historic Highwaymen Artists, are members of the second generation, a significant extension of the Florida Original Highwaymen movement. The value he saw in their lives, valued his own, now transcends time.

A core member of the group, Johnny is known for his unique challenge and tremendous impact mentored five close friends. Johnny Daniels honed the skills of, Jimmy and Johnny Stovall, and Kelvin Hair over four years. They were able to sell their work at much higher prices. Side by side, he mentored one female protege AJ Brown and last taught Richard Edwards. All are America’s Highwaymen Historic 2nd Generation. From meager means, Johnny was honored to own two galleries. His humanitarian spirit reached above and beyond. Over time he ensured their accreditation, entitlement, and success. Johnny Stovall and Kelvin Hair were his business partners in his first gallery, Johnny chose AJ Brown as his partner in his last gallery.

Family Memories: The sudden loss of my God uncle Johnny Daniels was yet another tragedy within the Highwaymen family. There was no understanding of how suggestive minor endoscopy surgery could end in death. This is known because "I was there," with Johnny, each day during his hospital stay before he died. On the morning of his surgery, Johnny and I spoke by phone. According to his nurse, it was a surgery that was supposed to take about thirty minutes, and she would call me afterward. I waited and waited, for Johnny's nurse to call me back; but her call never came.

In my art studio, I laid on the sofa watching the clock, wondering what was taking her so long. I called her but was unable to speak with her. The clock said 12:30 pm, I left the house to make the 1:00 pm Highwaymen meeting. While waiting for the meeting to start, the group arrived one by one. I received "the call," but it was from his niece Tate. In shock and disbelief, the words she spoke over the phone, made my heart drop, the beating rhythm was fast. In pain, it was hard to form the words as I informed Kelvin of the news, who'd just walked in. From that moment on, the news traveled fast. I rushed over to the hospital, everyone followed. All the Highwaymen were there to see Johnny. Friends were in shock, the family was devastated. It was the end of another era and the loss of another Highwaymen legend. Johnny brought both generations together, in more ways than one. Together, in a little room at the hospital, we all prayed and said good-bye. In the church, together we mourned his passing, at his funeral. For me, it was never the same without him. Johnny kept us all friendly with one another. Johnny was really gone and is truly missed.

A History Maker! A sense of pride and respect, Johnny Daniels has earned. The self-taught entrepreneur was gifted with impeccable talent, his work sold for thousands and now ten's of thousands. His God-given talent is reflected in his personal love for God’s nature in a lifetime of wildlife paintings. Never did he realize he’d bridge such a significant historic connection, the Originals, and the 2nd Generation. Preservation of America’s history through art education for future generations are essentials Johnny understood. He is honored and remembered for his great achievements and contributions.

Johnny Daniels is an American legend. He died May 26, 2009, at the young age of 54 in Fort Pierce, Florida. AJ Brown was honored when Ms. Jody Bonet of Cultural Affairs and Ms. Curley Daniels commissioned and authorized her, to construct Daniel's grave-site monument. AJ Brown is the Goddaughter of Ms. Daniels, God family to the Daniels, and as a part of Daniels legacy, was named a legal representative and spokesperson for the Johnny Daniels art estate, by his heirs.

History of the Highwaymen is a part of America's past-time. Their rightful place in the world of art was reaffirmed when the United States of America, first historic African American, Commander-in-Chief, the 44th President Barack Obama held the highest office of the land, and First Lady Michelle Obama added two of AJ Brown’s paintings to their private White House collection. Johnny Daniels was included in the president's private collection.

Celebrating Black History

Media: Hand carved ceramics and ceramic mosaic tile over concrete, cost: $7000.00
Location: Fort Pierce, Florida, Pine Grove Cemetery, 1000 block Avenue L, section 2-N
Fabricated: Mosaika Art Design
Budget: $1000.00 St Lucie County Board of County Commissioners & $6000.00 AJ Brown
Labor: Highwaymen Artist AJ Brown, assisted by J Brown & Lee Andrew "Pap" Moore

The Highwaymen Heritage Trail Obelisk, Fort Pierce, Florida

Celebrating Black History

In 2009, Florida Highwaymen Historic Artist AJ Brown served as the first secretary for the Highwaymen group during the first official 501(c)3 organization. St. Lucie County Manager of Cultural Affairs Jody Bonet asked Brown if she would assist artist Stephanie Werner of Miami, in familiarizing Werner with the African American group, known as "the Florida Highwaymen." The $90.000 "Highwaymen Obelisk" project highlights one side of Brown's written history which serves, and celebrates the historic cultural landmark of the Highwaymen artists, and Florida's history.

The 2009 Highwaymen Obelisk is a part of the new Highwaymen Heritage Trail constructed in 2012.

Brown's devoted contributions of over a month, helped preserve the Highwaymen story, and culture which helped secured Werner's vision as Brown provided the history of the written story text on the north side, that served well for the Obelisk.

In addition, Brown was also asked to donate her time to assist as a liaison to Mosaic Fabrications during the on-site construction of the project. The Johnny Daniels grave-site monument and the Obelisk are adorned with one of Daniel's own paintings. Early Morning St Lucie River, is a fitting inspiration constructed by Daniels protege' AJ Brown.

Werner thanked Brown in a February 06, 2016, letter of acknowledgment, for Brown's collaboration efforts. A monument of significance stands for decades, carries this unknown, unrecognized tribute, by Florida Highwaymen Historic 2nd Generation Artist AJ Brown, and is indeed an honor! The 2009 Obelisk is a wonderful extension of the new Highwaymen Heritage Trail constructed in 2012.