Richard Etheridge: The Hero of the Pea Island Life Saving Station
|Richard Etheridge, far left, and the Pea Island Life-Saving crew in front of their station, circa 1890. U.S. Coast Guard photo|
Every year around black history month we talk about the great "firsts." Those who broke through racial barriers to become the first African-Americans to do something. In every case there was a lot of pain and heartache leading up to success. In this next story, The "first" accomplishment only scratches the surface of what this man was able to do in his life.
|Pea Island Station - Library of Congress|
He was promoted from the lowest to the highest position. His all-white crew quit... so Etheridge recruited an all African American crew from nearby stations.
His station was burned to the ground by an angry white mob.
But that was nearly the end of this man's journey.
According to the town of Manteo, North Carolina, Etheridge was born as a slave.
His owner taught him how to read and write.
|Pea Island Life Saving Station -Library of Congress|
Here's how the Coast Guard describes one of the crew's most daring rescues.
"Etheridge was “one of the best surfmen on this part of the coast of North Carolina,” and on October 11, 1896, Etheridge led his crew on a daring rescue that serves as a testament to his exemplary skills as a leader and a surfman.
|Pea Island Life Saving station- library of congress|
After a distress flare was sighted, Etheridge launched a surfboat into the forceful waves and currents. The crew struggled to make their way to the schooner, and when they finally arrived they found they could not reach the vessel because it was not on dry land. Etheridge, seeing no room for failure, tied two of his strongest surfmen together and connected them to shore by a long line. The surfmen fought their way through the breaking waves as they went from the schooner to dry land ten times and rescued the entire crew of the E.S. Newman.