Sorry for the lack of Black History Month Posts. There’s been a lot happening over here. This Black History Month Spotlight is on Matthew Henson. Never heard of him? Me neither. My favorite part of Black History Month is learning new things. I’ve done a lot of these posts over the years and try not to repeat myself, so click on the links for more posts and check out the archives.
Matthew Alexander Henson (August 8, 1866 – March 9, 1955) was an American explorer who accompanied Robert Peary on seven voyages to the Arctic over a period of nearly 23 years. They spent a total of 18 years on expeditions together. He is best known for his participation in the 1908–1909 expedition that claimed to have reached the geographic North Pole on April 6, 1909. Henson said he was the first of their party to reach the pole.
Henson was born in Nanjemoy, Maryland, to sharecropper parents who were free Black Americans before the Civil War. He spent most of his early life in Washington, D.C., but left school at the age of twelve to work as a cabin boy. He later returned to Washington and worked as a salesclerk at a department store. One of his customers was Robert Peary, who in 1887 hired him as a personal valet. At the time, Peary was working on the Nicaragua Canal. Their first Arctic expedition together was in 1891–92. Henson served as a navigator and craftsman, and was known as Peary’s “first man.” Like Peary, he studied Inuit survival techniques.
Awards And Recognitions
Henson achieved a degree of fame as a result of participating in the expedition, and in 1912 he published a memoir titled A Negro Explorer at the North Pole. As he approached old age, his exploits received renewed attention. In 1937 he was the first African American to be made a life member of The Explorers Club. Then, in 1948 he was elevated to the club’s highest level of membership. In 1944, he was awarded the Peary Polar Expedition Medal. He was received at the White House by Presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower. In 1988 he and his wife were re-interred at Arlington National Cemetery. In 2000 Henson was posthumously awarded the Hubbard Medal by the National Geographic Society. Even more recently is perhaps the greatest honor. On September 2021, the International Astronomical Union named a lunar crater after him.
How do we have a photo of him?