By Gary Monroe, author of Mary Ann Carroll: First Lady of the Highwaymen
Mary Ann Carroll moved to Fort Pierce, Florida, from Wrightsville, Georgia, in the late 1940s, where she met and married James Brady Carroll. They established Piney Grove Primitive Baptist church. Mary Ann Carroll ran the church as secretary, choir director, usher, board director, and business manager until leaving to establish the Foundation Revival Center Church of Redemption in 1998, where she served as pastor.
Mary Ann Carroll embodied the spirit of American individualism. Carroll said that she’d “been through the storm,” which is underscored by her having been a black woman who came of age in the Jim Crow South. She also climbed the proverbial mountain, overcoming obstacles one after the other. She raised her seven children as a single mother, mostly through manual labor. She found her own voice as an artist; she became the sole woman in the collective of the Highwaymen. Early on she found inspiration from the revered painter Harold Newton. But it was grit and determination that guided her to succeed alongside her male counterparts. As she told me, “I had to be back home [from sales outings] to pick up my children after school, make dinner, and oversee homework.”
As a child, Carroll visited President Dwight Eisenhower while on a school fieldtrip to Washington, D.C. Her memory of being at the top of the Washington Monument was of beauty and she often reminisced afterwards that it was breathtaking. This aesthetic sensibility remained with her.
Carroll will be remembered as a Highwaymen painter, though she was as pioneering a person as she was an artist, a role model to young women especially. In 2011 Michelle Obama invited Carroll to the First Lady’s Luncheon at the Congressional Club in Washington, D.C., where Mrs. Obama accepted a painting that Carroll selected to gift her. The image was of a royal Poinciana tree along the riverfront. Earlier this year, Carroll was Florida’s Featured Artist in celebration of Black History Month; her artwork was on display at the Governor’s Mansion in Tallahassee.
Mary Ann Carroll passed away with loved ones by her side on December 4, 2019, in Snellville, Georgia. Among Carroll’s many legacies, her daughter Renee Carroll-Mills names “her brilliant oil colors.”
Gary Monroe is the author of Mary Ann Carroll: First Lady of the Highwaymen.