Submerged NC: North Carolina Life-Saving Stations Pictured in Black & White

February 8, 2022

Join Keeper James Charlet to hear the stories of the African American crews who served in the U.S. Life-Saving Service.

The United States Life-Saving Service was the first successful American coastal service whose singular mission was land-based ocean rescue. It existed from 1871 until 1915, with over 300 life-saving stations on all of America's coasts. Although it had a rough start, it became America's most celebrated, honored, and admired national service. The brave souls known as Surfmen had one focus: saving lives in peril from the sea, "so others may live."

During their 44-year history, nationwide, using no more than small, open, wooden boats, and cork life belts, often in violent and dangerous storms, they responded to over 178,000 lives in peril…of which they saved, OVER 177,000; yet, somehow, America forgot these peaceful heroes. In 1915, the United States Life-Saving Service merged with the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service and was renamed the United States Coast Guard.

Hardly any Americans have ever even heard of the United States Life-Saving Service. Far fewer have heard of their integrated squads, known as "checkerboard crews." Some have heard of the very first all-black one – the Pea Island United States Life-Saving Service Station No. 17, Outer Banks, North Carolina, which formed just 20 years after the Civil War in the deep south. Join us to learn its extraordinary story.