International students at Memorial University's Grenfell campus in Corner Brook have paid tribute to a civil rights trailblazer as part of Black History Month.

A plaque honouring Lanier Phillips was unveiled at the campus by the group of students.

Phillips, a black crew member who survived a wartime shipwreck near St. Lawrence in 1942, credited his rescue off Newfoundland with transforming his life.

He went on to have a successful career as a naval officer.

A woman who helped rescue him tried to scrub his skin, thinking the dark colour was oil. But when Phillips told her otherwise, he was pleasantly shocked when she didn't treat him any differently.

Phillips was 88 years old when he died in March 2012.

Kelicia Letlow-Peroune, a graduate student from Guyana, said the story is even more special because of the context.

Lanier Phillips honoured

A plaque has been unveiled at the Grenfell campus in Corner Brook in memory of Lanier Phillips, seen here in a file photo, as part of Black History Month. (CBC)

"Particularly the fact that Newfoundland actually made an impact on his life, because when we initially started doing our research we didn't find much connected to Newfoundland and Black History Month," she said.

According to Letlow-Peroune, it was the perfect kind of story to inspire future generations.

"When I realized that the person who had rescued him was a white person, I thought that was interesting to showcase that we can look past our differences," she said.

Shanda Williams, the program co-ordinator for international students at Grenfell, says there's a lot to learn from the story of Lanier Phillips.

"I just feel that if we can highlight those moments more often, then we can help to bring people in to the knowledge of the struggles and victories of people of colour," she said.

Williams said Phillips' story serves as an inspiration to many people in the present day.

"He went back to the United States with an inspired spirit and he went and he fought against racial discrimination and he accomplished so much things in his life."

A permanent home for the plaque has yet to be identified.

An annual award in Lanier Phillips' name will also be established for an international student at Grenfell.