Friday, May 10, 2019

Fact Friday: Onward: A Photobiography of African-American Polar Explorer Matthew Henson by Dolores Johnson

Image: National Geographic/ Penguin Random House

Onward: A Photobiography of African-American Polar Explorer Matthew Henson by Dolores Johnson. 64 p. National Geographic Photographer series. National Geographic Society, December, 2005. 9780792279143. (Review of finished purchased copy.)

Fact Friday features Onward: a photobiography of African-American Polar explorer Matthew Henson by Dolores Johnson. 

On April 9, 1909, Commander Robert Peary took measurements that confirmed that he and his team had reached the North Pole. He thought he was the first explorer to do so until he returned to civilization and learned that Dr. Frederick Cook claimed he had done so a year earlier. Once the fraud was sorted out, Peary received credit for the achievement and his companion throughout nine attempts in the bitter cold, Matthew Henson received none.

Oh, brave white male explorers making names for themselves on the backs of the indigenous population! How courageous! (Is there a sarcasm font?) Think about any "explorer." Then, consider their "guides." Were they paid a fair wage or exploited and tossed aside? 

It was Matthew Henson who got him there after eight failed attempts. Matthew Henson actually got to the pole first because he broke the trail; but it was Peary who measured the coordinates. Henson had innate talent. He didn't need tools. He used the stars and was often as accurate as Peary's instruments and calculations. 

Imagine Peary's rage upon returning to find that Dr. Frederick Cook stole his thunder by claiming to plant a flag at the Pole earlier. The claim that was later proved false and Peary was acknowledged as the first. In fact, the National Geographic Society awarded Peary the Hubbard Medal in 1909. Was Matthew Henson given any credit? No. It wasn't until after Peary's death, that Henson received an award from Congress (1944) and the Navy Medal (1945). In 2001, he was posthumously awarded the Hubbard Medal. 

This account sets the record straight with evocative writing and plentiful black and white archival photos, maps and pictures of diary entries. Back matter includes an afterword, chronology and bibliography and resources as well as quotation sources and an index. 

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