Social Justice Activists | Matthew Henson


Matthew Henson photoMatthew Henson (b. 1866) is not a name frequently heard, and one fewer would likely recognize ( Editors, n.d.). It was not until decades after he reached the North Pole with Robert Edwin Peary that he received acknowledgment for his contributions to exploration ( Editors, n.d.).

Born to “two freeborn black sharecroppers”, Henson lost his parents at a young age, and ended up working on a ship, where he “learned literacy and navigation skills” ( Editors, n.d.). From there, he joined Peary for a series of expeditions that would eventually lead north. After many trips to Greenland, some more successful than others, Henson and Peary began their efforts to reach the elusive North Pole ( Editors, n.d.). They likely could only imagine the challenges that lay ahead of them. Although many lives were lost in their attempts, and others gave up, Henson and Peary, along with a small group of Eskimos, reached the North Pole in April of 1909 ( Editors, n.d.).

Even as Peary received accolades, he also was the victim of doubt due to his lack of proof ( Editors, n.d.). However, Henson received almost no recognition, and ended up as an employee at a federal customs house ( Editors, n.d.). In 1912, his book, titled A Negro Explorer at the North Pole, came out, but another 25 years would pass before he received some of the recognition he deserved ( Editors, n.d.). [In 1937,] “the highly regarded Explorers Club in New York accepted him as an honorary member, and the U.S. Navy awarded him a medal in 1946” ( Editors, n.d.).

Henson passed away in 1955; however, it was many more years before Henson was re-interred in the Arlington National Cemetery, his much-deserved final resting place ( Editors, n.d.).



References Editors. (n.d.). Matthew Henson biography. Retrieved from