From The Outer Banks Voice:
MANTEO — Malcolm Fearing, the outgoing Division 1 representative on the North Carolina Board of Transportation, has proposed naming a Dare County bridge now under construction in honor of a local African-American pioneer, and county commissioners this week lent their support to the idea.
About four weeks ago, Fearing began to quietly float the idea of naming the bridge in honor of Capt. Richard Etheridge, the first African-American to command a life-saving station when the U.S. Life-Saving Service appointed him as keeper of the Pea Island Life-Saving Station in 1880.
The station, which closed in 1947, was located within sight of the breach.
The Pea Island bridge crosses New Inlet, which was re-created by Hurricane Irene in 2011 and is currently served by a temporary metal span referred to by locals as the “Lego bridge.”
Construction on a half-mile, concrete replacement started in December 2015, and is scheduled to be completed later this spring.
Fearing noted that the new bridge would likely be the first of the three spans to open as part of the more comprehensive Herbert C. Bonner Bridge replacement project.
Etheridge was also a Civil War veteran of the Union Army and was the first African-American to serve on the Manteo Board of Commissioners as well as the local school board.
Born in Dare County as a slave in 1842, Etheridge learned to work the water, trained by his master, who also illegally taught Etheridge to read and write.
Dare County was one of the first Confederate areas invaded by the Union Army when the Civil War started, although the region held few slaves and even fewer plantations and did not resist the Union occupation to any great extent.
The county became home to thousands of refugee slaves during the Civil War, a group collectively known as the Freedmen’s Colony.
Etheridge left the area to join the Union Army, rising to the rank of sergeant and returned to Roanoke Island after the war, where he joined the Life-Saving Service. The service became a full-fledged government agency in 1878 and was eventually merged with the Revenue Cutter Service in 1915 to form the U.S. Coast Guard.
Bob Woodard, chairman of the Dare County Board of Commissioners, recited during the board’s meeting Monday much of Etheridge’s history as noted above and also noted the appropriateness of the resolution in light of February being Black History Month.
Fearing told the board there were some hoops and procedures to jump through in the NCDOT’s bridge-naming procedures, but Woodard held up some forms and said the documents were on their way.
He then introduced a resolution, which the board approved in a unanimous vote, asking the Department of Transportation to name the Pea Island bridge in honor of Etheridge.
With the approved resolution, the naming application will move to the NCDOT chief engineer’s office with required documentation before it is placed on the Board of Transportation’s agenda for final approval.
If approved, the NCDOT and Dare County will share the cost of signs to be placed at each end of the bridge.
This story is provided courtesy of the Outer Banks Voice, a digital newspaper covering the Outer Banks. Coastal Review Online is partnering with the Voice to provide readers with more environmental and lifestyle stories of interest about our coast. You can read other stories about the Outer Banks here.