|My father was an intellectual person
offended by the racial prejudice which denied Matt Henson his
place in History. His tribute to Matt is the biography Dark Companion.
It reveals a
deep sensitivity to the racism that prevented Henson from
receiving the same honors that his white team members did.
While such days are behind us in many ways, some of us still
work to see that Matt maintains his rightful place in History as
co-discoverer of the North Pole.
Dad met Matt at Captain Bartlett's funeral
I am often asked how my father met Henson and wrote Matt's
biography. Here is how it happened. Brad was drafted into the
Army for the duration of WW2, became a sergeant and saw action
in the Pacific. After the war he returned to New York City where
my Grandfather, Joseph Robinson, lived. Joe was a member of the
Explorers Club. When Explorers Club member Bob Bartlett died
Brad attended the funeral where he was introduced to Matt, also
a club member. My father found Matt to be an intelligent, sincere person. Brad
was fascinated listening to Matt's amazing arctic adventures.
His account of reaching the North Pole, about 12 pages from A Negro Explorer at The North Pole was
included in my father's book World's Great Stories of Hunting
and Adventure, published by McBride in 1947. This was the
first time Matt's 1912 book had ever been reprinted.
Matt told excellent, detailed, accurate accounts of his many years
with Peary in the arctic. Together they decided to write a full
biography of Henson's life. My father had by then married Joan (Dark
Companion is dedicated to her) and they had a flat in
the Bronx, New York. My mother also met Matt and adored him. Matt and my
father met at Matt's Harlem apartment many evenings. Brad was
impressed by the obviously sharp mind and excellent memory Henson
displayed. But most of all my father spoke highly of the man
himself. The result was Dark Companion, published by McBride
My father always emphasized that Matt was a man of exceptional
character. He said he was a great man, yet calm, and humble. He was
articulate, wise, and loving. In fact, so many people have said so
many complimentary things about Henson that one understands why he
was a legend to the Inuit people who followed him to the North Pole.
Henson is now considered the greatest of all arctic explorers; a
correct assessment of the man who saved Peary's life more than once.
Matt himself survived near death experiences only because tribal
shaman healed him and nursed him back to life. The spiritual
training he experienced with the Inuits made him a brother to them.
Matt proved himself in hunting and in his power to stand up to the
evil spirits like the devil Kokoyah.
This magnificent character Henson displayed had a lifelong impact on
my father. He felt that Matt was the finest person he had ever
known. My mother was always quick to call Henson "a great spirit."
Matt was like a family member - a special uncle or grandparent whom
we all loved.
Matt was a great spirit
I believe that what we call spirits are a bridge between us and God.
I have read accounts of modern arctic travelers who have experienced
a presence on the Polar ice, a person they could not see yet knew
was with them. Working on the Henson website or his biography I
often feel the benevolent patience, calm and joy of his presence.
Call it what you will, but I agree with my mother - Matt is a "great
spirit", and one who may still be an inspiration to us today.
It is my privilege to help you discover Matthew Alexander Henson. I
trust you will enjoy this legend of an orphan boy who ran away from
home, went to sea at age 13, yet went on to become the first man to
stand on the top of the world. The man the Inuits called "Matthew
the kind one." The man who my mother knew as a "great spirit".
| Bradley Robinson, author of
Dark Companion. Photo ~ 1957