Peed lauded for sacrifice

Published 11:10 am Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Edward Peed was a black American not granted the full rights of citizenship.

At a time when many black citizens were routinely denied the right to vote, hold elective office or engage in some forms of public service, Peed volunteered to fight fires for his town.

With segregation enshrined in law, it’s likely Peed wasn’t allowed to shop in at least some of the downtown-Washington stores he was helping save from fire on Feb. 8, 1902.

That didn’t stop Peed and fellow members of the all-black Salamander Fire Company from showing up to do their duty.

And it didn’t stop Peed from giving his life in the fire.

According to history researched by present-day firefighters and other Washington residents, Peed was a nozzleman and one of the Salamander company members who battled a blaze that started in the Atlantic Coast Line freight warehouse that winter night.

Peed was killed — after the fire had spread and had been contained — when the weakened wall of the Hoyt Store building fell on him, killing him instantly.

Peed had been a member of the fire company for 20 years.

He left behind a wife and two sons.

“A monument was erected by the white citizens and placed at his gravesite in appreciation of his faithfulness and service to the community,” reads a portion of the history, as recited by Washington Mayor Archie Jennings.

Peed was the first North Carolina firefighter on record to die in the line of duty, according to city fire officials.

He was honored Saturday in a ceremony at Washington’s Fire Station No. 1.

The event was held by the fire-rescue-EMS department, Washington’s Human Relations Council and the local Association for the Study of African-American Life and History.

On hand were dignitaries like Jennings and city Councilman William Pitt.

Pitt is a dispatcher and firefighter.

“To me it means that one person can make a difference,” Pitt said of Peed’s story, “and that it’s an honor to wear the uniform and do the type of work that Edward Peed did.”

Myra Lynn, Washington’s postmaster, presented a commemorative cancellation stamp noting Peed’s service.

The stamp was featured on all mail coming through Washington Saturday.

The stamp art is a portrait of Oscar Micheaux, the “father of African-American movies,” next to a silhouette image of an old-fashioned fire engine.

The engine design was done by North Carolina artist James Huff, Lynn said.

Copies of the stamp will be available at the Washington post office for 30 days following the ceremony, Lynn related.

“I see him as a pioneer, as an African-American pioneer,” she said of the day’s honoree.

“When he did all of this, he didn’t worry about whether he was black or white. He was there,” said Emma Howard, a member of the Human Relations Council and a former Washington councilwoman.

As part of the proceedings, city Fire Chief Robbie Rose recognized Capt. Richard Moore, who retired from the department on Nov. 1, 2005, after 31 years on the job.

“He gave many years of service to the city of Washington, many years of service to the citizens of Washington,” Rose remarked.

Stepping forward for this recognition, Moore looked back to his predecessors.

“It was an honor to work here,” he said, adding, “I didn’t make it by myself.”

After a lunch at the fire station, attendees followed fire-rescue vehicles in a procession to Beebe Memorial Park for the unveiling of a monument to Peed.

Before lunch, Jennings echoed other speakers in emphasizing the unity represented by Saturday’s service.

The mayor referred to the Washington community as “our community.”

“It’s just one,” Jennings added.

The ceremony was staffed by volunteers from the ASALH, the Human Relations Council and other organizations.