Social Justice Activists | Matthew Henson
Matthew Henson (b. 1866) is not a name frequently heard, and one fewer would likely recognize (Biography.com 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 (Biography.com 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” (Biography.com 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 (Biography.com 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 (Biography.com Editors, n.d.).
Even as Peary received accolades, he also was the victim of doubt due to his lack of proof (Biography.com Editors, n.d.). However, Henson received almost no recognition, and ended up as an employee at a federal customs house (Biography.com 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 (Biography.com 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” (Biography.com 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 (Biography.com Editors, n.d.).
Biography.com Editors. (n.d.). Matthew Henson biography. Retrieved from http://www.biography.com/people/matthew-henson-9335648#final-years