Matthew Henson (August 8, 1866 - March 9, 1955) was an American explorer who accompanied Robert Peary, most famously on an expedition intended to reach the Geographic North Pole in 1909. Due to his being black and his status as Peary's employee, he never reached the same fame as Peary in an America where racist views were still common. Today, the veracity of Peary's North Pole claim is widely disputed.
He wrote a book himself about his arctic exploration (A Negro Explorer at the North Pole) in 1912 and later in collaboration with Bradley Robinson his biography Dark Companion in 1947.
During their expeditions he and Peary fathered children with Inuit women, two of whom were brought to the attention of the American public by S. Allen Counter, who met them on a Greenland expedition.
With an Inuit woman named Akatingwah, Matthew Henson fathered his only child, a son named Anaukaq. After 1909 Matthew Henson never saw Akatingwah or his son again though he did receive updates about them from other explorers for a time. His son Anauakaq, who died in 1987, arrived in the United States with Kali Peary, Robert Peary's son on May 29, 1987 to visit his father's family and grave site. Anaukaq and his wife Aviaq had 5 sons, who in turn, had many great grandchildren that still reside in Greenland.
The "discovery" of Anauakaq and Kali and their meeting with their Henson and Peary relatives were documented in a book and documentary entitled "North Pole Legacy: Black, White and Eskimo."
On April 6, 1988 Henson was reinterred in Arlington National Cemetery near Peary's monument. Many members from his American family and his Inuit family (Anauakaq's children) were in attendance.
In October 1996, the United States Navy commissioned the U.S.N.S. Henson, a T-AGS 63 class oceanographic explorer ship, in honor of Matthew Henson.
On November 28, 2000, the National Geographic Society awarded the Hubbard Medal to Matthew A. Henson posthumously. Dr. S. Allen Counter petitioned the National Geographic Society for many years to present its most prestigious medal to Henson. He attended the ceremony with Mrs. Audrey Mebane, Henson's 74 year-old great-niece. The medal was presented at the newly named Matthew A. Henson Earth Conservation Center (MAHECC) in Washington, D.C., and accompanied a scholarship given in Henson's name by NGS.
Matthew Henson is the great-grand nephew of Josiah Henson, a famous fugitive slave.
The Matthew Henson Earth Conservation Center in Washington, DC is named for him, as is Matthew Henson Middle School in Indian Head, Maryland and Matthew Henson Montessori in Palmer Park, Maryland.