New Highwaymen Television Documentary

by: Jack Hambrick

As seen in Antiques & Art Around Florida, Winter/Spring 2008

Carnell Smith must have been living in a bubble.

In 2005, the Philadelphia preacher was told about a group of art world phenoms from Florida called the Highwaymen. Smith had no idea who the Highwaymen were. Never heard of them. Sure, he was from Florida, but he had pulled up stakes decades ago. Smith began to recognize something in the Highwaymen story. He had lived it.

The Highwaymen, Legends of the Road, is my second documentary on the Highwaymen and features an extensive interview with Smith. The one-hour program focuses on the founders of the Highwaymen movement, Alfred Hair, A.E. Backus and Harold Newton.

Smithís vault of memories and recollections sheds new light and new facts of the Highwaymen story.

Smith grew up in Fort Pierce, Florida, the heart of Highwaymen country. In 1958, his older sister Doretha married a young aspiring artist named Alfred Hair. Hair was a couple years his senior and the two became fast friends.

Hair was the painter turned entrepreneur credited with developing the assembly line approach to painting Florida landscapes and managing a staff of door to door salesmen. Smith was one of those salesmen who often hit the road with the Highwaymen senior salesman and artist Al Black.

Perhaps most revealing are the stories Smith recounts about hitting the road and selling paintings to white customers at the peak of the civil rights struggle.

"Most of the artists donít like to speak about how they were sometimes treated. There were some things that happened with me in my life and with black people that I donít even like to talk or think about," said Highwaymen artist Mary Ann Carroll.

Smith has no problem speaking about how it was. "We ran into a lot discrimination back then. There was a time when we went into a restaurant to sell paintings and a bunch of white guys came at us and kicked the paintings out of the frames," said Smith.

One might only imagine the humiliation of this repeated treatment. Whenever Smith was out selling and ran into customers that would hurl racial epithets, he didnít react. He politely walked away. Hair had counseled him on how to handle these situations and reminded him the goal was to sell paintings. Period.

"Alfred told us we would run into discrimination and told us to remember that we were business people. He said to look beyond the racist comments and remember we were there to make a sale," said Smith.

Things had changed dramatically by the time Alfred Hair was murdered in a bar room fight in 1970. He had become fairly well know and respected by both blacks and whites. This was evidenced in the parking lot of the hospital where Alfred had been rushed after the shooting. The parking lot was jammed with cars and people as news spread that Hair had been shot. "There was so many people there it was like a football game. People were crying. They were white and black people from all over," said Carroll.

Alfred Hairís goal in life was to be an artist and that he achieved. What he never knew nor intended was that his art and his force of personality had played a significant role in easing racial tensions and bringing the community together.

The Highwaymen, Legends of the Road will premiere on PBS television stations nationwide in Spring 2008. The DVD and program airdates will be released in January 2008 at www.thefloridahighwaymen.com.

The program is made possible by Art Link International www.artlinkinternational.com.

Legends of the Road is the second documentary on the Highwaymen by father and son team John and Jack Hambrick. The critically acclaimed "Floridaís Outsider Artists" was released in 2002.

*All Photos courtesy of Jack Hambrick, www.floridahighwaymen.com*

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