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Photos by Biff Jennings
Shooters at the Beach

The Pea Island Preservation Society, Inc. (PIPSI) is pleased to announce the fourth annual Juneteenth free concert to be held on Wednesday, June 19 at 5:30 pm, at the Pea Island Cookhouse Museum in the Town of Manteo.  The museum, simply referred to as the “Cookhouse” is at located at 622 Sir Walter Raleigh Street in the opposite direction of downtown.  The returning headliner for the event is the professional opera singer, Tshombe Selby, a beloved native of Roanoke Island.  Selby grew up singing and playing the piano at Haven Creek Baptist Church, which is located just a couple of blocks from the Cookhouse, and is delighted to be returning to his beloved hometown.   This church, the place where he first publicly performed, is connected to the story of thousands of enslaved people who fled to Roanoke Island during the Civil War seeking a safe haven, a place they hoped to freely live and where the Freedmen’s Colony on Roanoke Island was formed.


Selby’s Juneteenth performance is also particularly noteworthy because he is a descendant of the Pea Island Lifesavers, the brave surfmen most known for performing the daring and heroic rescue of the shipwrecked schooner E.S. Newman on October 11, 1896, during a hurricane.  In the middle of the night Keeper Richard Etheridge and his crew saved all-nine on board during the fierce storm.  In March 1996, some 100 years later and long after each had died, they were posthumously awarded the prestigious Gold Lifesaving Medal by the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG).   The delay is attributed to the crew being an all-Black crew and the challenges and injustices they faced during their lifetime.

Born January 16, 1842, Etheridge grew up being enslaved on Roanoke Island.  During the Civil War, he left home his owner, John B. Etheridge, to help Union troops fight to free enslaved people.  On January 24, 1880, when selected to replace the White Keeper who was in charge of the Pea Island station, at 38 years old Etheridge became the first Black person in the nation to command a U.S. Life-Saving Service (USLSS) station.  Etheridge would serve as Keeper (the official USLSS title for the commander of a lifesaving station and crew) at the Pea Island station until his death in May 1900.  At 58 years old he died of natural causes while working at the station.  He is considered a key figure for both the Black history and the history of the USLSS on the Outer Banks.


The annual Juneteenth event is a great way to bring people living on or visiting the area together in an outdoor setting, a setting that includes an large open lawn area, several trees, picnic tables and several outdoor exhibits displaying the legacy of Keeper Etheridge and the Pea Island Lifesavers.  This annual celebration is quickly becoming a local favorite on the Outer Banks, a place for people, young and old, to gather to celebrate freedom, reflect on the past, and look to the future.

The small museum (which is located in the original building once located at the US Coast Guard station at Pea Island ) is where the Keeper and surfmen cooked and ate their meals.  The location includes a life-sized bronze statue of Keeper Richard Etheridge prominently displayed in the street roundabout at the museum.  A boathouse to honor Lieutenant Herbert M. Collins also sits next to the museum.   Collins, born on Roanoke Island in 1921, enlisted in the USCG in 1939 following the footsteps of his great, great uncle and his uncle who served under Etheridge.  He worked as a surfman at the Pea Island station from 1940-1947, throughout World War II, and was the last left in charge at the station.  In March 1947 when Collins shut and locked the doors to the station for the very last time, he ended a 67-year period, 1880-1947, the USLSS and later USCG Pea Island lifesaving station was staffed primarily with Black commanders and crews. 


Since the last year’s Juneteenth concert Selby has continued to do exciting things!  This season at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, he performed as an ensemble, tenor, and featured soloist of the ensemble in over eleven productions, and covered principal roles in one. Most recently he was a feature soloist with the Binghamton downtown singers in Binghamton, New York.  Selby’s Juneteenth performance at the Cookhouse this summer, which will be the fourth consecutive year he has returned, is now considered a key event on Roanoke Island held in June each year.  The key sponsor for this event is the Don and Catherine Bryan Cultural Series, an Outer Banks organization striving to inspire, educate and challenge through presentations of the visual, literary, and performing arts.

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