Painting a New Path

Amanda Anthony - Florida Highwaymen

In the 1950s, a group of African-American artists broke the conventional mold by selling paintings during a time marked with extreme discrimination and financial hardships. Amanda Anthony, Ph.D., assistant professor of sociology, had the opportunity to study, research, and learn about these self-taught entrepreneurs. Dubbed The Florida Highwaymen, these artists navigated the Jim Crow south, often finding alternatives to traditional art galleries by traveling along the Florida highways selling their landscape paintings from the trunks of their cars.

For most, their art freed them from work in citrus groves and labor camps, and they created a body of work that has become not only a timeless collection of a natural environment, but a symbol of determination and belief in oneself. The surviving Highwaymen, now in their sixties and seventies, are an important chapter in America’s culture and history. Their self-determination in the face of adversity remains an important story of perseverance, inspiration, and creativity.

Mary Ann Carroll 81 - Florida highwaymen

Mary Ann Carroll-81

Dr. Anthony wrote her dissertation, as well as two empirical articles, based on the stories, lives, and travels of this group and their collectors. “My mentor pulled up a website and it had a description for a documentary on the Highwaymen.” Dr. Anthony said. “I was immediately pulled in, and after more than two years of participant observation, content analyses, and 16 interviews (and 8 follow-ups) with promoters, collectors, and 13 of the 18 living artists, I was putting together my dissertation.”

There are plans in place to create a film about these traveling artists. The film will be titled “The Unknowns – Talent is Color Blind”, and it will depict the story of the self-taught landscape artists who piloted a new age of art during the racially turbulent 1950s and ’60s. Dr. Anthony states that, ironically, one of her empirical articles “critically analyzes the construction of their story through a theoretical lens titled color-blind racism.”

“It is such an uplifting story, and each and everyone of the Highwaymen has such a great and strong individual personality, their own backgrounds, their own interests, and their own unique talents.

Al Black 2001-24 - florida highwaymen

Al Black 2001-24

I was grateful for the opportunity to meet and speak with them, because you get a sense of that and it differentiates them, instead of the common popularized story that tends to group everyone together.”

Dr. Anthony is an Assistant Professor in the department of sociology. Her primary areas of research interest include social inequalities, culture and consumption, identities, and social psychology. She also studies controlling images – stereotypes disseminated through popular media and influence our own actions. Dr. Anthony hopes “the movie is successful, but I also hope that it doesn’t place these artists – people – into such stereotypes.”

Her teaching interests include theory, sex and gender, pop culture, and race and ethnicity. A few of her current projects include inequalities in market representations of “authenticity” and identity negotiation by marginalized groups.

For more information on the Florida Highwaymen click here.

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