|Stealing The Glory|
On November 28th 2000 the National Geographic Society posthumously awarded the Hubbard Medal to Black explorer Matthew Henson. Only thirty-three others have every received this prestigious award including; Sir Earnest Shackelton, Neil Armstrong, Jane Goodall, and Robert E. Peary. The President of the National Geographic Society said, "this honor is long overdue."
The Henson Interviews are about Matthew Henson, his achievements as an arctic explorer and his struggle to gain recognition against a background of racism at its most vulgar that continues to this day. Matthew Henson and four Inuits - Ootah, Egingwah, Ooqueah and Seeglo, stood with Peary at the North Pole on April 6th 1909. For Henson & Peary attaining the North Pole had been a goal, driving them for 18 years and a prize every nation wanted.
On returning to America they met with scenes of mass adulation for Dr. Cook, who falsely claimed to have reached the Pole first. This confusion over the two claims only took a few months to resolve; though people wanted to believe Cook, the mountain of evidence against him revealed fraud that could not be ignored. After the humiliation of Cook stealing their thunder, Peary, Henson and the other explorers fully expected justice to be done. Instead of recognition and reward they became victims of a new controversy. A single, racist question, originally posed by Cook's supporters, has been repeated even in the most recent publications on the 1909 North Pole expedition.
"Why did you send all your white men back to land and take the Negro Henson to the pole?" Immediately, and for all time, Henson was dismissed as not being a "credible witness' because of the color of his skin. The burden of proof lay with Peary and Peary alone.
Peary was then and still is considered the only witness to the final 133 nautical miles of the journey to the Pole. Peary was interrogated by America's Congress and made to produce more and more evidence to support his claim. Finally he and the white members of the expedition were honored but Matthew Henson had to be sacrificed. His contribution to the expedition was conveniently forgotten.
did not stay forgotten.
He was a legend in Greenland and Scandinavia. He became a much loved
icon to Black America and was a popular member in the exclusive New
York Explorers Club. For contemporary writers attempting to continue
the North Pole controversy Henson is a frustrating figure, an individual
of genuine integrity getting in the way of the "credible witness'
argument; the latest approach to the debate is simply to ignore Henson,
white washing him out of history. The problem is that in trying to revise
history one cannot remove Matthew Henson from arctic exploration. No
one can erase memories
"To the Eskimos,
who loved him, Matt was the greatest of all the men who came from the
distant Land of the South"
Henson... stood beside his commander because he was more experienced
and, therefore, more valuable to Peary than any one of us."
Copyrightę 2001 Bradley robinson