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Surfman Etheridge an OBX Icon

A newly released short film tells the story of a crew of African American surfmen who served their country during a time of immense racial divide in the United States at the historic Pea Island Life-Saving Station and its leader, Outer Banks icon Richard Etheridge.

The video, “Freedmen. Surfmen. Heroes. — The Story of Richard Etheridge and the Pea Island Life-Saving Station,” is a project of Current TV and a partnership the town of Manteo.

The Pea Island Life-Saving Station in Rodanthe, built in 1878, became in 1880 the first in the country to be manned by an all-African American crew of surfmen. The station was also the first in the nation to have an African American man, Etheridge, who was born a slave on Roanoke Island on Jan. 16, 1842, as the station’s keeper and commanding officer, according to Dare County.

Under Etheridge’s direction, the station was regarded as one of the best on the entire Eastern Seaboard due to the crew’s efforts to save the lives of hundreds of sailors who found themselves in distress in the Graveyard of the Atlantic.

A century after the Pea Island Life-Saving Station crew’s heroic Oct. 11, 1896, rescue of the passengers and crew who were aboard the E.S. Newsman when it ran aground off the coast of Rodanthe during a hurricane, Etheridge and his crew were posthumously awarded a Gold Lifesaving Medal of Honor by the United States Coast Guard for their courage, dedication and service that day.

The story and legacy of Richard Etheridge and the Pea Island Life-Saving Station can be found on display at the Pea Island Cookhouse Museum in Manteo and at

About the Author

Staff Report

The story was compiled by staff members of Coastal Review Online.