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Why Matt is special
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.

Friendship grew

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 in 1948.

Exceptional Character

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
Peary's 1881 Arctic Expedition team
Henson was always a kind, gentle, and very intelligent man. Magazine photo of him with Harlem children in 1947

 
Rusty Robinson, January 2000

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