Matthew Alexander Henson, born August 8, 1866, was the first African-American Arctic explorer.
Along with Robert Peary, he made six voyages, spending 18 years in expeditions. Known as Peary’s “first man”, Henson served as navigator and craftsman. He also traded with the Inuit and learned their language.
He accompanied Peary and others on a 1909 expedition to Greenland and the group has been recognized as the first to reach the Geographic North Pole. However, that’s also been disputed. He was the first African-American to be accepted to The Explorers Club. That took place in 1937.
Wally Herbert, another Arctic explorer, determined in 1969 that Peary’s team hadn’t reached the pole after studying Peary’s diary and astronomical observation. The conclusion is widely accepted, if still disputed.
A Negro Explorer at the North Pole, Henson’s memoir, was published in 1912.
Henson died at age 88 on March 9, 1955.
A 1988 presidential order reinterred Henson and his wife’s remains with a monument at Arlington National Ceremony.
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