Black History Month Spotlight: Matthew Henson

Black History Month Spotlight: Matthew Henson

(KFVS) - February is Black History Month, and in the spotlight for Feb. 9, 2016 is explorer Matthew Henson (1866-1955).

Henson is best known for accompanying U.S. Navy engineer and explorer Robert Peary on his 1909 expedition intended to reach the Geographic North Pole.

The son of sharecroppers in Nanjemoy, Maryland, Matthew Henson became a cabin boy on a merchant ship after his parents and then his guardian died when he was 12. The captain of the ship the Katie Hines taught Henson to read and write. By the age of 20, he had visited multiple continents and countries.

Henson met Commander Robert E. Peary in November of 1887, while he worked at a Washington D.C. clothing store.

Impressed by Henson's experience, Peary hired him to help with a surveying expedition in Nicaragua.

Their relationship continued for the next 20 years, including seven different expeditions into the Arctic, including their 1908-1908 trip to find the North Pole. Peary became ill during the last legs of that trip, and sent Henson ahead as a scout. Henson placed the American flag at what he thought was the North Pole. Peary's discovery is still disputed and controversial, with claims that many on the journey were not trained in navigation, so could not properly confirm his calculations.

Henson was admitted as a member to the prestigious Explorers Club in New York City in 1937.

In 1988 Henson's body was moved from where it was buried in New York City, to Arlington National Cemetery near a monument dedicated to Peary.

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