This Day in Black History: April 6, 1909

Matthew Henson became the first Black man to reach the North Pole.

Posted: 04/06/2013 08:00 AM EDT
Matthew Henson

(Photo: Wikicommons)

Matthew Henson was the first African-American to reach the North Pole on April 6, 1909, along with explorer Robert Peary.

Peary hired Henson as his valet for his expeditions to the North, but eventually came to rely greatly on Henson's navigation skills, experience handling icy conditions, and valued his tenacity when so many other team members lost their lives to starvation or turned back South.

After multiple attempts to reach their goal, Henson, Peary, four Eskimos, and their team of 40 dogs reached the North Pole. While Peary received most of the glory after the expedition, Henson's accomplishments were overlook and he worked as a clerk in a New York federal customs house.

He wrote about the adventure in his memoir A Negro Explorer in the North Pole and when he was 70 years old, he was finally accepted into the renown Explorers Club in New York and awarded a U.S. Navy medal nine years later. Henson died in New York on March 9, 1955.

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