Press release from the NPS: Feb. 2, 2015
Outer Banks Group parks have stories to share about African-American history on the Outer Banks.
Since the mid-1970s our nation has commemorated African-American heritage during the month of February as an official observance to celebrate the contributions that African-Americans have made to American history in their struggles for freedom and equality.
At the three sites of the National Park Service Outer Banks Group, visitors can find multiple stories of heroic men and women and their contributions to end racial segregation and discrimination. Superintendent David Hallac invites the public to visit the Outer Banks Group parks this month as our county commemorates African American Heritage Month.
Stories from Fort Raleigh National Historic Site:
The Roanoke Island Freedmen’s Colony (1863-1867): Formed by military order, the Freedmen’s Colony on Roanoke Island, a place of safe haven for escaped slaves, became a model of Freedmen’s Colony organization. At its height, the colony boasted a street grid system, steam powered sawmill, fishery and six schools attempting to give its 3,000 residents the skills needed for the future. Colony descendants still reside in the area. Their ancestors made the passage to freedom and started a new life at this colony.
Stories from Cape Hatteras National Seashore:
Richard Etheridge—From slave to saver-of-lives: Born a slave, Etheridge distinguished himself not only as a Union army sergeant (36th USCT), but also later, in 1880, as the first African-American to command a U.S. lifesaving station. His Pea Island Station crew was known as one of the best in the country, and Etheridge as one of the service’s most courageous lifesavers.
Pea Island Lifesaving Station (1880-1947): When African-American Richard Etheridge was assigned keeper of this lifesaving station, racial standards required that his crew be the same, giving this station the country’s first African-American lifesaving crew. Vigilance to mission and rigorous training made this crew one of the nation’s finest and credited as an early driving of diversity in the U.S. Coast Guard.
Hotel D’Afrique – A safe haven on Hatteras Island (1861-1865): Union forces constructed this first safe haven in North Carolina after the capture of Hatteras Inlet. Arriving by ship, hundreds of former slaves received food and housing in exchange for unloading supply vessels. They gave information aiding in the Union success at Roanoke Island and were among the first African-Americans to fire against Confederate forces.
Stories associated with Wright Brothers National Memorial – the following individuals are among those honored in the First Flight Society’s First Flight Shrine at Wright Brothers National Memorial:
The Tuskegee Airmen: The Tuskegee Airmen overcame racial discrimination during World War II. Colonel George Roberts was the first African-American accepted into the military’s pilot training program and the first African-American officer to command a racially mixed unit. General Benjamin Davis, Jr. was the fourth African-American graduate from West Point and the first African-American general in the Army Air Forces.
Bessie Coleman (1893-1926): On June 15, 1921, Bessie Coleman became the first African-American woman issued a pilot license. Rejected from U.S. flight schools because of racial and sexual prejudices, she learned to fly in France. Returning home, Coleman worked for equality in the air and on the ground, inspiring a generation of African-American men and women.