Fire on the Beach: Recovering the Lost Story of Richard Etheridge and the Pea Island Lifesaversby David Wright, David Zoby
Pub. Date: 08/28/2002
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
Fire on the Beach recovers the heroic, long-forgotten story of the only all-black crew in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard. In 1871 the Life-Saving Service, the precursor to the Coast Guard, was created by Congress to assure the safe passage of American and international shipping and to save lives and salvage cargo. Although it was decommissioned in 1915, a
Fire on the Beach recovers the heroic, long-forgotten story of the only all-black crew in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard. In 1871 the Life-Saving Service, the precursor to the Coast Guard, was created by Congress to assure the safe passage of American and international shipping and to save lives and salvage cargo. Although it was decommissioned in 1915, a century ago the LSS boasted some two hundred stations, and the adventures of the now forgotten "surfmen" filled the pages of popular reading, from Harper's to the Baltimore Sun to the New York Herald.
This book tells the story of Station 17 of Pea Island, North Carolina, and its courageous captain, Richard Etheridge. A former slave and Civil War veteran, Etheridge was appointed Keeper of the Pea Island station, but when the white crew already in place refused to serve under him, he recruited and trained an entirely black crew. Although they were among the most courageous in the service, leading many daring rescues and saving scores of men, women, and children along the treacherous stretch of coast known as "the Graveyard of the Atlantic," civilian attitudes toward the Pea Island surfmen ranged from curiosity to outrage. When a hurricane hit the Banks in the late 1890s, they managed to save everyone aboard the wrecked E.S. Newman. This incredible feat went unrecognized for a century until, in 1996, the Coast Guard posthumously awarded Etheridge and his men the Gold Life-Saving Medal.
This courageous story of a group of men who battled prejudice as well as fierce storms to carry out heroic deeds illustrates yet another example of the contribution of one group of remarkable African Americans to this country's history.
- Oxford University Press, USA
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- New Edition
- Sales rank:
- Product dimensions:
- 9.10(w) x 6.10(h) x 1.00(d)
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Faced with several days of enforced inactivity as Hurrican Isabel bore down upon Baltimore, what I needed was a good book with which to pass the hours. There on my shelf was Fire on the Beach, purchased several months ago but set aside for just such a circumstance. As the wind howled around my apartment and rain slashed at my windows, I settled in to read. Authors Wright and Zoby have written a thrilling account about the American Life Saving Service (ALSS), predecessor to the U. S. Coast Guard. Their focus is on the life of Richard Etheridge, born into slavery, a soldier in the Union Army during the Civil War, and later, leader of a courageous crew of lifesaves at Pea Island's Station 17 on the Outer Banks. Etheridge, probably the son of a white 'Banker,' raised and educated as part of his family, obtained his freedom fighting with the North Carolina Colored Volunteers (NCCV) under infamous Colonel Edward A. Wild. After the war, the scandel-ridden ALSS was reorganized and Etheridge was appointed Keeper of the station at Pea Island; the only black man to command a station up to that point. Etheridge was, indeed, a 'man among men,' risking his life time and again, driving his 6-member crew of surfmen to rescue sailors and passengers off unfortunate ships driven ashore by storms at least as furious as the one threatening Maryland this day. Here is a tale of daring exploits during an obscure time in American history; of courageous men of color fighting steep breakers and raging surf over shallow shoals while saving stranded survivors of doomed vessels before a deadly sea could claim them. A fascinating account. Some might say it's black history. But it's more than that. It's about raw courage; about bravery against a treacherous enemy - the sea at its worst. Etheridge and his crew were black, but first and foremost, they were real men who willingly risked their lives daily for others. I heartily recommend this work as an eye-opening account of a time along the Outer Banks before storms were tracked with high-tech equipment, and as a gripping tale guaranteed to hold your interest.