Matthew Alexander Henson accompanied Admiral Robert Peary to the North Pole in 1909, and according to Peary’s son Kali, Peary “could not have reached the Pole without Matthew Henson.” Henson’s most valu-
able contribution to the expedition was his befriending of the Eskimo people, who respected him and taught him their language, customs, and survival skills. Henson in turn taught Peary to hunt for food, build a sledge, and drive a dogsled.
Folk history has it that Henson was the first to reach the North Pole, but the discovery was attributed entirely to Peary: Congress gave his account the official stamp of legitimacy, and Peary received numerous awards and honors. Although Peary did not share his honor with Henson, he did proclaim that “Henson is [an example] of the fact that race or color or upbringing or environment count nothing against a determined heart if it is backed and aided by intelligence.”