Matthew Henson was the first African-American to reach the North Pole on April 6, 1909, along with explorer Robert Peary

Matthew Henson

Matthew Henson was an African American explorer best known as the co-discoverer of the North Pole with Robert Edwin Peary in 1909.

Who Was Matthew Henson?

Famed African American explorer Matthew Henson was hired by explorer Robert Edwin as his valet for expeditions. For more than two decades, they explored the Arctic, and on April 6, 1909, Peary, Henson and the rest of their team made history, becoming the first people to reach the North Pole — or at least they claimed to have. Henson died in New York City in 1955.

Early Life

Matthew Alexander Henson was born on August 8, 1866, in Charles County, Maryland. The son of two freeborn black sharecroppers, Henson lost his mother at an early age. When Henson was 4 years old, his father moved the family to Washington, D.C., in search of work opportunities. His father died there a few years later, leaving Henson and his siblings in the care of other family members. 

At the age of 11, Henson left home to find his own way. After working briefly in a restaurant, he walked all the way to Baltimore, Maryland, and found work as a cabin boy on the ship Katie Hines. Its skipper, Captain Childs, took Henson under his wing and saw to his education, which included instruction in the finer points of seamanship. During his time aboard the Katie Hines, he also saw much of the world, traveling to Asia, Africa and Europe.

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history… march 6

1199 – English King Richard I was killed by an arrow at the siege of the castle of Chaluz in France.

1607 – An expedition led by Captain Christopher Newport arrived at the Spanish colony of Puerto Rico for supplies before continuing on their journey. On May 14, they went ashore and founded Jamestown, Virginia, as the first permanent English colony in America.

1652 – Jan van Riebeeck established a settlement at Cape Town, South Africa.

1789 – The first U.S. Congress began regular sessions at the Federal Hall in New York City.

1814 – Granted sovereignty in the island of Elba and a pension from the French government, Napoleon Bonaparte abdicates at Fountainebleau. He was allowed to keep the title of emperor.

1830 – Joseph Smith and five others organized the Mormon Church in western New York.

1830 – Relations between the Texans and Mexico reached a new low when Mexico would not allow further emigration into Texas by settlers from the U.S.

1862 – The American Civil War Battle of Shiloh began in Tennessee.

1865 – At the Battle of Sayler’s Creek, a third of Lee’s army was cut off by Union troops pursuing him to Appomattox.

1875 – Alexander Graham Bell was granted a patent for the multiple telegraph, which sent two signals at the same time.

1896 – The first modern Olympic Games began in Athens, Greece.

1903 – French Army Nationalists were revealed for forging documents to guarantee a conviction for Alfred Dryfus.

1909 – Americans Robert Peary and Matthew Henson claimed to be the first men to reach the North Pole.

1916 – Charlie Chaplin became the highest-paid film star in the world when he signed a contract with Mutual Film Corporation for $675,000 a year. He was 26 years old.

1917 – The U.S. Congress approved a declaration of war on Germany and entered World War I on the Allied side.

1924 – Four planes left Seattle on the first successful flight around the world.

1927 – William P. MacCracken, Jr. earned license number ‘1’ when the Department of Commerce issued the first aviator’s license.

1931 – “Little Orphan Annie” debuted on the NBC Blue network.

1938 – The United States recognized the German conquest of Austria.

1941 – German forces invaded Greece and Yugoslavia.

1945 – “This is Your FBI” debuted on ABC radio.

1953 – Iranian Premier Mossadegh demanded that the shah’s power be reduced.

1957 – Trolley cars in New York City completed their final runs.

1959 – Hal Holbrook opened in the off-Broadway presentation of “Mark Twain Tonight.”

1965 – U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson authorized the use of ground troops in combat operations in Vietnam.

1967 – In South Vietnam, 1,500 Viet Cong attacked Quangtri and freed 200 prisoners.

1981 – A Yugoslav Communist Party official confirmed reports of intense ethnic riots in Kosovo.

1983 – The U.S. Veteran’s Administration announced it would give free medical care for conditions traceable to radiation exposure to more than 220,000 veterans who participated in nuclear tests from 1945 to 1962.

1985 – William J. Schroeder became the first artificial heart recipient to be discharged from the hospital.

1987 – Dennis Levine began a two-year jail term for insider trading.

1987 – The Dow Jones industrial average closed above 2,400 for the first time.

1987 – Sugar Ray Leonard took the middleweight title from Marvin Hagler.

1988 – Mathew Henson was awarded honors in Arlington National Cemetery. Henson had discovered the North Pole with Robert Peary.

1997 – Mario Lemieux (Pittsburgh Penguins) announced that he would retire from the National Hockey League (NHL) following the playoffs of the current season.

1998 – Citicorp and Travelers Group announced that they would be merging. The new creation was the largest financial-services conglomerate in the world. The name would become Citigroup.

1998 – The Dow Jones industrial average closed above 9,000 points for the first time.

1998 – Federal researchers in the U.S. announced that daily tamoxifen pills could cut breast cancer risk among high-risk women.

1998 – Pakistan successfully tested medium-range missiles capable of attacking neighboring India.

1931 April 6 – The Scottsboro Boys were arrested in Alabama… falsely accused and executed

The Scottsboro Boys, with attorney Samuel Leibowitz, under guard by the state militia, 1932

The Scottsboro Boys were nine African American teenagers, ages 13 to 20, falsely accused in Alabama of raping two white women on a train in 1931. The landmark set of legal cases from this incident dealt with racism and the right to a fair trial. The cases included a lynch mob before the suspects had been indicted, all-white juries rushed trials and disruptive mobs. It is commonly cited as an example of a miscarriage of justice in the United States legal system.

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It was one of the most renowned cases of the 20th century that highlighted issues of racism and the right to a fair trial. The Scottsboro Boys were nine Black teenagers accused of raping two white women in Alabama. The case involved a series of trials that began on this day in 1931. The three trials took place in Scottsboro, Alabama, where the defendants received poor legal representation and they were convicted by all-white juries. During one of the later trials, one of the alleged victims admitted that the story was fabricated and testified that none of the Scottsboro defendants touched either of the white women. Nonetheless, the jury found them guilty. Their case became the subject of widespread outrage, particularly in the North. The arrests and trials became symbols to a generation of Americans of racism in the legal system. It has since been the topic upon which music, film and television productions were based.

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(Photo: Brown Brothers/Encyclopedia of Alabama)

Written by Jonathan P. Hicks

In the first set of trials in April 1931, an all-white, all-male jury quickly convicted the Scottsboro Boys and sentenced eight of them to death. The trial of the youngest, 13-year-old Leroy Wright, ended in a hung jury when one juror favored life imprisonment rather than death.