Explorer Matthew Henson

When Admiral Robert Peary accomplished his goal of reaching the North Pole in 1909 — becoming arguably the second known person to reach the destination — he did so with the help of sled dogs and five other men — all of color.

In an era where the knowledge of a non-white person was often dismissed by other whites as inferior, Peary’s team consisted of one Black man and four Inuit natives, all skilled in arctic survival. The names of the four Inuits were Ooqueah, Odaq, Eginwah and Sigluk.

“Peary utilized Inuit technology instead of bringing in outside technology for survival, for sleeping, for moving dogs,” said Eagle Island State Historic Site Park Manager Tim Spahr.

Peary’s right-hand man was Matthew Henson, an African American from Maryland skilled in exploration, fluent in Inuktitut, the native language of Greenland, and could drive a sled dog team as good as the Inuits.

Eventually Henson was acknowledged by the National Geographic Society for his exploration achievements, but it took years before getting the credit he deserved, coming after his death, according to Bowdoin College’s Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum web page.

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