‘Freedmen, Surfmen, Heroes’ returns to Aquarium

By on June 12, 2017

A painting by James Melvin portrays two surfmen from different stations meeting on the beach during night patrol. (North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island )

The vibrant history of the United States Lifesaving Service and the Pea Island Lifesaving Station returns to the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island for three dates this summer.

On June 14, July 5 and August 2, presentations, in cooperation with the Pea Island Preservation Society, will offer re-enactments, engaging storytelling and a message of perseverance and working together.

“Freedmen, Surfmen, Heroes: The Unique Story of the Pea Island Life Savers” teaches the history of the Pea Island Life Saving Station and the role surfmen played along the coasts of the Outer Banks decades ago. It is based on the real-life story of Richard Etheridge, who grew up in slavery on Roanoke Island, served in the Civil War and eventually would be appointed Keeper of the station.

The presenters will discuss Etheridge’s life and how black surfmen under his leadership worked side by side with white surfmen of neighboring stations to perform hundreds of rescues in the Graveyard of the Atlantic.

In dramatic fashion, the presenters will also recount the historic rescue of the schooner E.S. Newman on Oct. 11, 1896, during hurricane conditions. That rescue resulted in Etheridge and the Pea Island Lifesavers, some of the earliest examples of minorities in the Coast Guard, being posthumously awarded the Gold Life Saving Medal for their heroism.

This inspiring and thought-provoking story is reminder of the importance of equal opportunity, regardless of race or color, and how people working together can achieve success against great odds.

The program is presented by Joan and Darrell Collins, descendants of the Pea Island Life Savers, and historic interpreters James Charlet and Linda Malloy, who appear in costume as a Lifesaving Station Keeper and his wife.

“Freedmen, Surfmen, Heroes,” will be presented 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., June 14, July 5 and August 2. The program is included with regular aquarium admission.

The N.C. Aquarium on Roanoke Island is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and is dedicated to the mission of “Inspiring appreciation and conservation of North Carolina’s aquatic environments.” The aquarium is open from 9 a.m. until  5 p.m. every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas. For more information, visit NC Aquariums/Roanoke Island.

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