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“Freedmen, Surfmen Heroes™” propelled by Community Foundation grant

By JAMES D. CHARLET

The Pea Island Preservation Society, Inc., recently applied to the Outer Banks Community Foundation for the very first time and just received an award.

The $29,580 Community Enrichment Grant takes the Society’s new program, “Freedmen, Surfmen, Heroes™” to a higher level. The PowerPoint and live presentation is the brainchild of Joan Collins.

Together with her cousin, Darrell Collins, of renowned fame as speaker and historian at the Wright Brothers National Memorial, and with the expert historic interpreters James Charlet and Society member Linda Molloy, the team has been making local presentations.

The first presentation was at the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island in February 2017. A total of 15 has since been performed at the Aquarium as a special free program for Aquarium guests. Why there? This property was once the homestead of Richard Etheridge, the hero of this story. He was the first African-American Officer in Charge of a United States Life-Saving Service, the direct predecessor of today’s U. S. Coast Guard. His Pea Island Station was also the only all-black crew in the entire country. His family gravesite is still at the Aquarium and honored at the Aquarium entrance with special wayside markers. Additionally, the program has since been presented in every Dare County elementary school.

This grant is truly for Community Enrichment. The Outer Banks Community Foundation said in its announcement of the award, “With this grant, the Pea Island Preservation Society will share the story of Richard Etheridge and the Pea Island Life-Savers, illustrating positive messages of unity, diversity, and equal opportunity on the Outer Banks. The Pea Island Life-Savers were the all-black crew of surfmen best known for their courageous rescue of the E. S. Newman in 1896, when the heroic life-savers swam through a hurricane to retrieve the shipwrecked passengers one at a time. (The waves were too fierce for the surfboat.)” The Society is now more able to present this program to groups and organizations throughout the Outer Banks communities.

Joan Collins adds, “Although the story of Richard Etheridge and the Pea Island Life-Savers has gained attention over the years, many Dare County residents and businesses either have no knowledge of this history or only a vague sense about it. The same holds true for visitors. Our objective is to change this. The generosity of the Outer Banks Community Foundation will play a key role in helping us make this important part of the history of the community broadly known to those who live and visit here. The inspiring story of Etheridge and his crew is something that the community, state, and nation should be proud of and we look forward to being able to continue to share the important lessons that “Freedmen, Surfmen, Heroes” continues to teach us today.”

Darrell Collins, president of the Society, said, “For the first time in Dare County local Black history is told to visitors to the Outer Banks and in every Dare County school. The grant recently awarded by the Outer Banks Community Foundation to the Pea Island Preservation Society will insure that the story of Richard Etheridge and his crew will forever be an inspiration for generations to come.”

Tonya Collins, Darrell’s wife, also faithfully attends every presentation and basically serves as the group’s Manager in addition to her role as Treasurer and website developer/designer. “History is always a very provocative tool and being a part of honoring and sharing the story of a group of our nation’s greatest contributors is very exciting and humbling at the same time…I extend my heartfelt thanks to the Outer Banks Community Foundation for its insight in recognizing our FSH program as a hidden gem worthy of exposure.”

“Freedman, Surfmen, Heroes™” program presenter, Linda Molloy says, “It’s always been an honor to help educate both locals and visitors alike to the powerful legacy of the men of the Pea Island Life-Saving Station. This remarkable story has not only been left to Dare County but also to the nation at large. The message of working together to save lives, which is key to the mission of PIPSI, is only made stronger by partnering with the Outer Banks Community Foundation through the awarding of this grant. We are so grateful to this amazing Foundation, whose history – much like the Life-Saving Service – of helping so many organizations in need has become a catalyst for helping them succeed.”

“We believe that everyone’s foundation is the community –  locally, regionally and nationally,” says James Charlet.

For more information about the society go to peaislandpreservationsociety.com.

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