Sink or Swim: African-American Lifesavers of the Outer Banks

Sink or Swim: African-American Lifesavers of the Outer Banks

by Carole Boston Weatherford


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Sink or Swim is the premier book in a series focusing on the African-American experience in coastal North Carolina.Intended for young people between the ages of nine and fourteen, Sink or Swim will be a valuable inspiration for children seeking positive black role models, as the Pea Island lifesavers shouldered great responsibility at a time when few African Americans held positions of authority. Mixing adventure and social discord, this informative, action-packed narrative will enhance young readers' understanding of coastal conditions and how slavery and other racial barriers affected African Americans' lives.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781928556039
Publisher: Coastal Carolina Press
Publication date: 10/28/1999
Edition description: 2ND
Pages: 81
Product dimensions: 5.96(w) x 8.08(h) x 0.30(d)
Age Range: 9 - 14 Years

Read an Excerpt

From Sink or Swim: African-American Lifesavers of the Outer Banks:

Etheridge had stopped beach patrols during the storm, but surfman Theodore Meekins kept watch from the station's tower. Through heavy fog, driving rain, and blowing sand, Meekins thought he saw something. He lit a red Coston lamp, scanned the darkness, and saw nothing, But he couldn't be sure. Meekins signaled the keeper. The two lit another lamp. This time, the Newman answered with a flare. Etheridge gathered his crew. With a pair of mules and a surfboat, the seven men headed for the wreck. "The storm was raging fearfully, the storm tide was sweeping across the beach, and the team was often brought to a standstill by the sweeping current," Etheridge later wrote. Knee-deep in sand and chilly water, the men pushed on. The swirling seas had flooded the coastline, leaving no firm ground where the crew could plant the sand anchor or place the Lyle gun to fire a lifeline. That ruled out a beach rescue. Nor could the men row the surfboat out to the wreck through the fierce waves. So close to the wreck, yet so far. The Newman's crew cheered when they spotted the lifesaving crew in the distance. The lifesavers heard the cries of the captain's wife and child. Although there was little hope for a rescue, the lifesavers at least had to try. Etheridge came up with a plan. He called his two strongest surfmen and gave the order, "Tie a large sized shot line around (them) . and send them down through the surf as near the side of the vessel as possible." Tied with heavy rope and lugging an extra line, the two surfmen waded and swam through churning foam toward the battered boat. The crewmen onshore gripped the other end of the rope. The swimmers often disappeared in the roaring waves. When the surfmen neared the boat, they threw the end of the lifeline on board. Then, they climbed the ladder lowered by the ship's crew. The Newman's crew lashed the captain's son to the surfmen with another line. As waves beat the schooner, the surfmen struggled back to shore. The six surfmen took turns swimming in pairs to the shipwreck. In six hours, they carried all nine people, one by one, to safety. Later, the lifesavers and survivors huddled around a warm fire in the Lifesaving Station. Richard Etheridge and his crew had fought the stormy sea and won. But, unlike white lifesavers who were honored for less heroic rescues, the Pea Island crew received no medals for risking their lives. All they got was the E.S. Newman nameboard, which Captain Gardiner gave them after finding it on the beach. Surfman Meekins nailed the nameboard to the side of his barn. The crewmen became local legends. African-American boys on Roanoke Island dreamed of becoming lifesavers when they grew up.

Table of Contents

1. The Ocean Remembers: Richard Etheridge learns to fear and respect the Graveyard of the Atlantic. 2. A Call To Arms: The Civil War erupts, and Etheridge joins the U.S. Colored Troops. 3. Fighting for Justice: Etheridge demands fair treatment for Colored Troops and ex-slaves. 4. Surfman No. 6: Etheridge joins the U.S. Lifesaving Service. 5. The Pea Island Station: Etheridge, the first black keeper in the Lifesaving Service, commands an all-black crew. 6. Tests of Courage: The Pea Island surfmen risk their lives to save others. 7. A Storm Rages: The Pea Island crew battles a hurricane to rescue shipwreck victims. 8. Forgotten Heroes: Four determined souls work to set history straight. 9. Gold Medals: The brave men of Pea Island finally receive recognition.

What People are Saying About This

Margaret Rogers

Sink or an eloquently written episode of African-American history, long overdue. It is a 'must-have'...Children and adults will find this book enlightening and fascinating.
— Margaret S. Rogers, Author/Historian/Playwright

Toni Trent Parker

Far too often, events in African-American history have been downplayed or simply ignored. It is important for ALL children to learn about these heroes. Kudos to Carole Boston Weatherford for bringing this piece of American history to the forefront.
—Toni Trent Parker, President, Black Books Galore!

Helena J. Lee

Sink or Swim is an excellent historical account...It filled a gap in my knowledge of the glorious achievements of my people that have been overlooked in the education of all Americans. This book is a MUST for individual reading lists and for libraries of North Carolina public school systems.
—Helena J. Lee, Director, Upperman African-American Cultural Center, the University of North Carolina at Wilmington

Bertha Todd

Carole Weatherford has written a powerful narrative...of courage and compassion...This bit of history, not located in other history books, is worth reading by youth and adults alike. All--regardless of ethnicity--would benefit from this story describing the struggles and heroic deeds of some African-American males who took pride in making their contribution to the development of America.
—Bertha Todd, Co-Chair of Wilmington's 1898 Centennial Foundation--a non-profit corporation established to "develop and coordinate a broad-based community effort in appropriate remembrance of the Wilmington coup and violence of 1898."

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