Synopses & Reviews
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.
"The riveting, previously untold story of the extraordinary heroism of former slaves and freedmen who became lifesavers on the Outer Banks of North Carolina... battling prejudice as well as the great storms that made these barrier islands 'The Graveyard of the Atlantic.'"--St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Best Books of 2001
"Far more than the story of heroic surfmen....A rich social history of 19th century race relations mirrored in the life of a remarkable African American....A compelling read about heroes and scoundrels, seafarers and soldiers...and prejudice towards those who strove to prove themselves equals."--The Virginian-Pilot
"Explore[s] not only the life-saving record of the Pea Island crew, but also the discrimination that burdened the crew members' lives and the social history of those times."--The Richmond Times-Dispatch
"Adds significantly to our understanding of the many essential ways in which African-Americans have served their country."--The Washington Post Book World
"Reads more like a novel than a work of history."--The News and Observer
"Readers who enjoy true-life adventures like Isaac's Storm should find it enthralling."--Wilmington Star-News
"Social history at its readable best."--The Memphis Flyer
About the Author
is Assistant Professor of English and African American Studies at the University of Illinois. The recipient of the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Award, he has written for The Southern Review
, The Kenyon Review
, and the African American Review
David Zoby teaches at Casper College in Wyoming. His work has appeared in The Southern Poetry Review, the Georgia State Review, and elsewhere.