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Matt's place in history
Donald McMillan said Matt was: "...a better man than any of us."
Legendary African-American Arctic explorer Matthew Henson was born into poverty, ran away from home and went to sea at age 12. Yet he grew up to become a famous American hero whose long term partnership with Robert E. Peary allowed them to discover the North Pole in 1909.
Today Matthew Henson is remembered as a truly remarkable and well loved man; one who helped others, never spoke unkindly or harbored anger, was enthusiastic, and highly skilled in many disciplines. When men were starving and no food could be hunted, Henson declared he would find game - and he returned with fresh meat to keep them alive. When others could not go on, he carried them home. When even the indomitable Peary felt they were going to die he gained courage when he looked at Matthews face. 

Henson's partnership with the Inuit people contributed to the astounding success of the 1909 North Pole expedition. The Inuit people made a legend of Henson, whom they called "Matthew the kind one." However, what should have been a glorious public reception was turned into a bitter nightmare of controversy when hoaxer, con artist, and later Federal Prisoner # 23118, Dr. Frederick Cook, claimed he reached the Pole a year earlier. The public was bitterly confused and divided by Dr. Cook for several months until Cook's lies became his downfall. Permanent damage had been done to the honor of the 1909 expedition team.

The public of 1910 had no place for an African-American hero; so Henson was never given the recognition he earned through the 18 years and 7 highly dangerous, difficult Arctic journeys he endured with Peary. His rewards and recognition came gradually. In the 1930's he was made a member of the New York Explorers Club of which Peary had once been the President. All the other famous explorers knew how valuable Matt had been at the North Pole. Freuchen, Stefansson, MacMillan, Bartlett and others kept close friendships with him.
Henson's biography, Dark Companion, was written by my father with Matt in 1947. His entire life story was finally told, the book was a success, and Matt began to be recognized for his vital role in reaching the Pole. He was interviewed by the press and spoke on radio. President Eisenhower hosted Matt and his wife Lucy at the White House. His funeral was well attended by his many friends, my parents, and fellow members of the New York Explorers Club. Today his spirit lives on to inspire each new generation with tales of his courage, accomplishments and above all exceptional character.

Matt has been memorialized in many ways. There is a Henson school in the county where he was born, the USNS Henson sails the world's oceans, a dozen books in print about him are sold over the Internet, thousands visit his grave site next to Admiral Peary's in Arlington National Cemetery. Henson is commemorated in US Postal stamps, plaques, and medals. Delroy Lindo recently portrayed him in a highly successful TNT movie. Dr. S. Allen Counter of Harvard has located Henson's Inuit family. Dr. Counter was responsible for the Hubbard Medal award and can be heard on the BBC audio program.

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