Alfred Hair: (1941 - 1970)
Born : Fort Pierce
Alfred Hair had the charm and insight of a skillful entrepreneur. He was 5 feet 10 inches tall, handsome, and easily made friends. Although he wasn’t directly instrumental in the artistic life of all the Highwaymen, he is generally thought of as the leader of the Highwaymen group.
Like his ancestors, Alfred Hair was encouraged to do well in school. He was smart and had a competitive edge. He liked math and excelled at it. But he and his group of friends could easily become sidetracked, so his teachers encouraged his involvement in focused activities. He was good at sports and he liked to play pool and go fishing. He worked in the groves when he needed spending money, and he knew what hard labor felt like. After graduating from high school in 1961, he began his college education at Lincoln Park Junior College, but dropped out the first semester to become an artist. Before leaving school, however, he presented the college president, Leroy C. Floyd, with one of his paintings in much the same way as he had done a year before as a senior at Lincoln Park Academy. He was already so well known as an artist, that the Fort Pierce newspaper, The News Tribute, covered the presentation of the gift and linked him to Bean Backus. At that time, Alfred had wanted to paint so much that he turned down a football scholarship at Bethune-Cookman College (now University).
Zanobia Jefferson, Alfred’s art teacher at Lincoln Park Academy, recognized his talent early on. She taught him privately, and later introduced him to Bean Backus, the white landscape painter who would mentor him until his early death. Alfred took formal lessons from Backus for two to three years, the only Highwayman who did. In fact, Hair became so closely aligned with Backus, that Bean once took him to Jamaica when he went there to paint. Like the residents of Fort Pierce, Jamaicans were taken with his magnetism and talent.
Alfred was a eager learner, and he took many important lessons from his teacher. He was envious of the way Backus lived as his own boss; Bean had creative freedom with financial rewards. He knew that only a few people could afford a Backus painting, and that if he created landscapes more quickly, he could sell them inexpensively, thereby expanding his base of customers. Alfred was also aware that, as a black man, the gallery scene would not be open to him. Consequently he needed to envision another way of selling his paintings. Confident that he had the talent and energy to become an artist, he devised a way to both follow in Bean’s footsteps but deviate from them given his place in the segregated South. Like his friend, Harold Newton, he decided to sell his paintings door to door.
Alfred Hair painted for the money; his goal was to become a millionaire by the time he was 35. In his mind, a painting wasn’t finished until it was sold. Unlike Bean, who sold paintings mostly on commission and charged several hundred dollars, Alfred painted twenty to thirty, and maybe forty, landscapes a day and sold them for $25 or $35 depending on size. It was clearly a better way to make a living than picking fruit.
In 1965 Alfred and Doretha Smith bought a house in Fort Pierce on Dunbar Street, at this time they had two chldren Alfred Jr. and Sherry. Doretha's younger brother Carnell Smith (another highwaymen artist) also moved in. Both Alfred and Carnell painted together creating Florida Landscapes. In 1966 Alfred and Doretha married. Their lives expanded on Dunbar Street with people repeatedly coming in and out of the house. It was a hard working life but it was also a good one. The family lived big, took vacations, and owned a boat. Alfred bought outfits to match his cars and always had a wad of money in his pocket. He was known for his success by both blacks and whites, and his friends admired him for sharing his knowledge and wealth. “He never met a stranger, ever,” Doretha claims. “He was kind and loving, and he was inclusive.”
Alfred Hair’s untimely death came when he was 29 years old. On the night of August 9, 1970, he and his friend Livingston Roberts drove to Eddie’s Bar on Avenue D in Alfred’s brand new blue Lincoln Continental Mark III. After a game of pool, Julius Funderburk shot him twice in a dispute over the killer’s ex-girl friend. Alfred had sensed danger and was trying to leave the bar. Badly wounded, he was rushed to the hospital. A newspaper article written about his death reported that in less than 30 minutes about 600 people, black and white, had filled the parking lot and started a vigil. Some prayed, others cried. Someone in the crowd said, “This is a scene like if a president got shot. Everybody loved Alfred.” The much beloved painter, friend, and family member was pronounced dead just before midnight. The following day the newspaper quoted Bean Backus as saying, “I loved the guy and I am very emotionally disturbed over his death. He was not only a student of mine, but he did a lot of good work for improving race relations in St. Lucie County…. Alfred never did any harm to anybody. There’s nothing to be said about him that wouldn’t be nice.”
Eddie’s was the place where the artists often gathered to divide up their earnings and discuss the day’s sales. They shared stories and toasted their recent good fortune. After Alfred Hair’s death, Eddie’s Bar became known as a place of heartbreak.
Julius Funderburk turned himself in to the police. Three months afterward, he was sentenced to what was supposed to be life in prison, but he was released after serving only five years in prison. Funderburk died in 2012.
Alfred Hair was buried in Pine Gove Cemetery, a sandy spot where weeds grew more prevalently than grass. His tombstone was marble, but over time it was vandalized and shattered, leaving only the word “Artist” visible. In 2003, after the Highwaymen received their name and once again become popular, the St. Lucie County Cultural Affairs Council restored his grave with a brightly colored mural. Note: Alfred Hair's nickname was Freddie, sometimes Alfred would sign his paintings with his nickname.
Alfred Hair Biography information: obtained from website thehighwaymentrail.com. This website is a fantastic reference to learn about the 26 Florida Highwaymen artists and their importance to Florida's history.