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Matthew Henson: With Peary to the Pole

Although Robert Peary is credited as the first to reach the North Pole (1909), he did not do it alone. He was accompanied to the Pole by Matthew Henson and four Inuit (referred to as Eskimos at that time).

Henson's skill, loyalty and dependability had been proven over many years of exploring with Peary (he had saved Peary's life on one occasion), but although Peary received many honors, Henson, as a black man, got little recognition.

In fact, upon returning to their ship, Peary appeared to shun Henson. Henson later wrote: "Not once in all that time did he speak a word to me... Not a word about the North Pole or anything connected with it."

Peary's expedition had started with six white men, one black and twenty-one Inuit. For the last leg to the Pole, he took only Henson and four Inuit, apparently so he could claim the honor as the only white man. At the beginning of the 20th century, a black man and Eskimos apparently didn't count.

It wasn't until 1937, at age seventy, that Henson got some of the attention he deserved when he was made an honorary member of the famed Explorers Club in New York. In 1946 he was also honored by the U.S. Navy with a medal, but his most-prized award was a gold medal from the Chicago Geographic Society.

Today, Henson is honored with a monument in America's Arlington National Cemetery (Picture: Right).

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