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Oral Histories

The SFA oral history program documents life stories from the American South. Collecting these stories, we honor the people whose labor defines the region. If you would like to contribute to SFA’s oral history collections, please send your ideas for oral history along with your CV or Resume and a portfolio of prior oral history work to

< Back to Oral History project: Saltwater South: Harkers Island, North Carolina


Ira Lewis

Ira Lewis, born in 1918, spent many years as a waterman of a different kind. Though he grew up on the shores of Harkers Island fishing as his father did on Shackleford Banks, Mr. Lewis wanted something more for himself.

“In my day when I come up, it was rough,” he says. “There weren’t no employment. Most everybody worked in the water. I dug clams out there. . . rolling off for seven cents a pail.”

That all changed when Ira went to Beaufort, North Carolina, and saw a man standing tall in his surfman uniform. He joined the coast guard in 1938, following in the footsteps of his older brother, James. Mr. Lewis was stationed in lighthouse stations along the coast of Long Island, New York. He rescued nine people during his career and retired in 1959, moving back home with his wife, Maggie, daughter Margaret Anne, and son Philip.

After retiring from the coast guard, Mr. Lewis worked in the commissary at Cherry Point, and chartered “Miss Maggie,” his commercial fishing boat, for several years. He lives “up on the hill” in a house he built with his own hands. In 2000, he established a veterans memorial on Harkers Island and continues to be an active member of the island community.

Date of interview:

Keia Mastrianni

Keia Mastrianni

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The Southern Foodways Alliance drives a more progressive future by leading conversations that challenge existing constructs, shape perspectives, and foster meaningful discussions. We reconsider the past with research, scrutiny, and documentation.


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