At Collins Park in Manteo, NC, centered in the roundabout on Bideford and Sir Walter Raleigh Streets, you will find a life-size bronze statue of Keeper Richard Etheridge standing with courage and conviction and holding a long oar of a rescue boat in his right hand. His statue is accented with a bronze commemorative plaque inscribed with his name nestled in the surrounding shrubs and flowers.
Keeper Etheridge was born into slavery and became the first African American to serve as officer in charge of a U.S. Coast Guard life-saving station. The appointment put Keeper Etheridge in charge of an all African-American crew at the Pea Island Life-Saving Station from 1880 – 1900. Having been a Sergeant in the Colored Troops of the Union Army during the Civil War, Keeper Etheridge ran the station with military precision, characterizing his career as one of distinction. One of the most successful missions included the chilling rescue of the E.S. Newman in October 1896 when two of his crew moved through hurricane-force seas to save lives.
Additional Information: Keeper Etheridge also fought for the rights of people on the home front who were being mistreated in the Freedmen’s Colony. He co-authored a compelling letter to the commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau and signed it “in behalf of humanity.”The story of Keeper Etheridge and the Pea Island Surfmen has been immortalized in the riveting book, Fire on the Beach, and the documentary film, Rescue Men. Their historic efforts are also honored by the US Life-Saving Service/US Coast Guard Station Pea Island Marker located on the grounds of the North Carolina Aquarium, as well as an exhibit displaying various paintings telling their story.
Keeper Etheridge’s statue is part of the Collins Park project dedicated to the late Dellerva Collins, former Manteo Mayor Pro Tem and a founding member of the Freedmen’s Colony Coalition. Along with the Pea Island Cookhouse Museum, the statue helps with preservation and the honoring of the community’s African-American heritage. This statue of an American lifesaving and civil rights hero was crafted by Stephen H. Smith of Marshville, NC, who also sculpted the likeness of Martin Luther King Jr. and Wilbur and Orville Wright. The bronze sculpture will remain a solid reminder of what the human spirit is capable of achieving.