Freedmen, Surfmen, Heroes

The inspiring live presentation, Freedmen, Surfmen, Heroes, by the Pea Island Preservation Society, Inc., returns to the Aquarium at Roanoke Island this summer. 

Captain Richard Etheridge, a slave taught to read and write, was the nation’s first African American Keeper and U.S. Life-Saving Service Station Pea Island, the only in the history of the service with all black Keepers and surfmen for most of its existence.  For decades (1880-1947) — shortly after the Civil War, during Reconstruction, and before the Civil Rights movement began — Etheridge and the surfmen at station Pea Island patrolled the coast here in the Outer Banks along with surfmen at neighboring all-white stations, and together saved lives.  This inspiring story teaches important messages about fair treatment, unity, teamwork, and providing equal opportunity to all.

The program will be held in the Aquarium’s Neptune Theater on August 9 at 11:30 am and 1:30 pm and included with regular admission.

The program is presented by Joan and Darrell Collins, descendants of the Pea Island Life-Savers, and local costumed historical interpreters James Charlet and Linda Molloy.   In dramatic fashion, the presenters also recount the October 11, 1896 heroic rescue of the 9-member crew of schooner E.S. Newman along the North Carolina coast during hurricane conditions — a rescue which resulted in Etheridge and his crew posthumously awarded the U.S. Coast Guard Gold Live-Saving Medal in March 1996.   

Dare County school officials have also requested the program to be presented at elementary schools next year.  It was also presented for a packed audience in February 2018 who attended the dedication ceremony of the new Captain Richard Etheridge Bridge on HWY 12 where it received rave reviews.

The three words, Freedmen, Surfmen, Heroes, each represent an important part of the story and the accompanying live presentation intended to promote this history in a new and creative way.  All are encouraged to attend this fun-filled event. 

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