ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. (WAVY) — The descendant of a North Carolina man who helped make history in the Outer Banks is recalling his service for Black History Month.
Maya Cole grew up learning about her great-great-grandfather, Theodore Meekins, who served in the only all-Black life-saving station in the country.
Known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic” because of its dangerous coastline, life saving stations were put up along the Outer Banks to help respond to shipwrecks.
Meekins was one of 54 Black men to serve at the station in Pea Island from the 1880s until it closed in the late 1940s.
“It was really exciting knowing that someone in my family was so brave and courageous. They risked their life to save others. That’s really inspiring to me to find out about someone in my family and know they were a part of Black History and history in general,” Cole said.
The station was headed by Keeper Richard Etheridge, who was born enslaved on Roanoke Island. He led the crew, including during their most well-known rescue when they saved the entire crew of the three-masted schooner, the E.S. Newman, in 1896.
Etheridge died in 1900 and the crew wasn’t recognized until 1996 being awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal.
The station building was relocated in 2007 and Cole remembers being at the ceremony with her family.
“I think it’s very vital that these stories are brought to the forefront and presented to people in the future — now, the present and future — so they can understand and know the history and know where they come from and the history that’s made from those people,” she said.
The Pea Island Cookhouse Station currently operates as a museum in Manteo and is open on Saturdays.
In 2018, the Pea Island Bridge was named after Keeper Etheridge.
While Cole never got the chance to meet her great-great-grandfather, she does share a love of swimming and says he was known as the best swimmer in the crew.
“I feel connected to him. I was never able to know him but I feel connected by that,” she said.
To learn more about the history of the Pea Island Station, click here.
To learn more about the museum, click here.