By Judd Hambrick
Special to the Daily Journal
Ft. Pierce, Fla., Aug. 10, 1970 – Alfred Hair, 29, a talented, well-liked, charismatic local artist and entrepreneur, was gunned down unarmed here last night, at Eddies’ Place on Avenue D, a popular bar and gathering spot for black artists from throughout this area.
J.L. Funderburk, a 31-year-old black man who lives at 908 North 17th St., has been arrested and charged with Hair’s murder.
Witnesses say Hair had been playing pool much of the evening, drinking beer with a dozen or so of his artist friends, and trying to “get to know” an attractive young woman seated in the bar. Apparently, Funderburk was attempting to become acquainted with the same woman.
As the night progressed, according to those who saw events unfold, Funderburk became intoxicated. The more he drank, the more enraged he became about having to compete with Hair for the attention of the young lady. Hair, as he normally did, was buying round after round of drinks for everyone in the bar with the considerable amounts of money he made from selling his art work. Funderburk could not afford that kind of competition.
Around 10 p.m., Funderburk allegedly stumbled from the bar in a jealous rage, saying he was going to get his gun from his car. When he returned to the bar, he hit Livingston Roberts, one of Hair’s artist friends, in the head with the butt of his gun, knocking him to the floor. Those in the bar say he then struck Hair with the gun. Stunned but mobile, Hair bolted for the rear door of the bar, but he couldn’t escape fast enough. Funderburk apparently shot Hair as he fled.
Hair was rushed to the hospital emergency room. Incredibly, in less than 30 minutes, word of his shooting had spread throughout town. Some 600 friends – black and white – and family members filled the hospital parking lot in an impromptu vigil. No question, this man was well liked. All were hoping for the best. Many were praying. Most were crying. One of those in the crowd said, “This is a scene like if a president got shot. Everybody loved Alfred.” But, all was for naught. Just before midnight, Hair’s doctor came out with tears in his eyes and simply said: “Alfred has retired.”
Even though he was a talented artist, Hair also had tremendous business and sales acumen and was the driving force behind the 25 to 30 artists who comprise his unique artistic group in this area of Florida. He made them a lot of money.
Since the late 1950s, these prolific self-taught artists have sold thousands of their Florida landscapes and sea scenes from their car trunks. They often paint a hundred pictures in a day.
When the sun goes down, these artists always gather at Eddies’ Place to divide up their revenue and talk about their sales experiences that day.
Painted on inexpensive Upson board, these colorful scenes have become synonymous with Florida. Tourists have hung thousands of these paintings in their homes all over the country.
Now that Hair is gone, many of the artists expressed concern over how they could continue without him. He was genuinely their motivating artistic force, as well as their driving sales force.
Alfred Hair leaves behind his wife, Doretha and six children. Funeral services are pending.
J.L. Funderburk pleaded guilty to Hair’s murder, and three months after the killing, he was sentenced to life in prison.
The artists’ concern for what they would do without Hair was well-founded; consumer tastes changed in the ’70s and ’80s. These artists fell on harder times for 20 years. But, in the early ’90s, they regained the sales momentum they once had with Hair. This special group of black artists became known as The Highwaymen, because they primarily sold their paintings on the highways of Florida, not art galleries. In the ’50s and ’60s, no art gallery would touch their work. Today, The Highwaymen paintings hang in art galleries all over the nation. Originally, these painting sold for $25 to $30 a piece. Today, vintage Highwaymen paintings sell for $5,000 and up. These self-taught black artists carved out their own movement in the art world.
Collectively, The Highwaymen have created some 250,000 paintings, insuring their place for generations to come in Southern Memories.