Commentary: African American Scientists, Explorers and Inventors
By dopper0189, Black Kos Managing Editor
Matthew Alexander Henson (August 8, 1866 – March 9, 1955) was an American explorer who accompanied U.S. Navy engineer Robert Peary on seven voyages to the Arctic over a nearly 23 year period. Henson is best known for his participation in the 1908-1909 expedition that claimed to have reached the geographic North Pole on April 6, 1909. Henson said he was the first of their party to reach the pole. Henson’s lifetime achievements were largely ignored by the general public and the popular media because of his race.
I first heard of Matthew Henson when I was a young child and I was taken ice fishing by a family friend. This friend was a history teacher who had worked with my mom, and knowing I had a love of history he always shared some tidbit of history with me. I was the only black kid on a frozen lake in NH and he wanted to make sure I knew I wasn’t the only black person who had “explored the frozen tundras” as he called our adventure.
Matthew Henson was born in Nanjemoy, Maryland, to sharecropper parents who were free people of color before the Civil War. When Henson was 4 years old, his father moved the family to Washington, D.C., in search of work opportunities. Henson’s father died there a few years later, leaving Matthew Henson and his siblings in the care of other family members.
At the age of 11, Henson left home to fend for himself. After briefly working in a restaurant, he walked all the way from Washington DC to Baltimore, Maryland, and found work as a cabin boy on the ship Katie Hines. The ship’s 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, Henson also saw much of the world, traveling to Asia, Africa and Europe. But in 1884 Captain Childs died, and Henson eventually made his way back to Washington, D.C., where he found work as a clerk in a hat shop.
One of Henson’s regular customers was Robert Edwin Peary, an explorer and officer in the U.S. Navy Corps of Civil Engineers. Impressed by Henson's seafaring credentials, in 1887 Peary hired him as his valet for an upcoming expedition to Nicaragua. At the time, Robert Peary was working on the Nicaragua Canal. The two quickly developed a long working relationship that spanned half a dozen epic voyages over two decades.
After returning from Nicaragua, Peary found Henson work in Philadelphia, and in April 1891 Henson married Eva Flint. But shortly thereafter, Henson joined Peary again, for an expedition to Greenland in 1891–92. While there, Henson embraced the local Eskimo culture, learning the language and the natives' Arctic survival skills over the course of the next year. Henson served as a navigator and craftsman, and was known as Peary's "first man". Like Peary, he studied Inuit survival techniques.
In 1900 Henson and Peary went farther north than anyone else had before, as the pair explored Greenland. A few years later they broke their own record.
In 1909, Peary mounted his eighth attempt to reach the North Pole. The expedition was large, as Peary planned to use his system of setting up cached supplies along the way. When he and Henson boarded his ship Roosevelt, leaving Greenland on August 18, 1909, they were accompanied by
22 Inuit men, 17 Inuit women, 10 children, 246 dogs, 70 tons (64 metric tons) of whale meat from Labrador, the meat and blubber of 50 walruses, hunting equipment, and tons of coal. In February, Henson and Peary departed their anchored ship at Ellesmere Island's Cape Sheridan, with the Inuit men and 130 dogs working to lay a trail and supplies along the route to the Pole.
During their 1908–09 expedition to Greenland, Henson was one of the six men, including Peary and four Inuit assistants, who claimed to have been the first to reach the geographic North Pole. Matthew Henson was one of the era’s few African-American explorers, and he may have been the first man, black or white, to reach the North Pole. In interviews, Henson was identified as the first member of the party to reach what they believed was the pole.
Peary selected Henson and four Inuit as part of the team of six men who would make the final run to the Pole. Before the goal was reached, Peary could no longer continue on foot and rode in a dog sled. Various accounts say he was ill, exhausted, or had frozen toes. He sent Henson ahead as a scout.
In a newspaper interview, Henson later said:
I was in the lead that had overshot the mark a couple of miles. We went back then and I could see that my footprints were the first at the spot.
Henson proceeded to plant the American flag. Triumphant when they returned, Peary received many accolades for his accomplishment, but in an unfortunate sign of the times, Henson as an African American was largely overlooked. The claim by Peary's team to have reached the North Pole was widely debated in newspapers at the time, as was the competing claim by Frederick Cook.
While Peary was lauded by many for his achievement, he and his team faced wide skepticism, with Peary having to testify before Congress about allegedly reaching the North Pole due to a lack of verifiable proof. Eventually the National Geographic Society, as well as, the Naval Affairs Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives both credited Peary's team with having reached the North Pole.
Their claim had gained widespread acceptance, but others remained doubtful. A reassessment of Peary's notebook by British polar explorer Wally Herbert in 1988 found it "lacking in essential data", thus, renewing doubts about Peary's claim. Herbert published research that found that their expedition records were unreliable, indicated an implausibly high speed during their final rush for the pole, and that the men could have fallen 30–60 miles (48–97 km) short of the pole due to navigational errors. But many have pushed back on this research pointing out that almost all records from that era are unreliable compared to modern records, so Herbert’s preferred “1st team” Frederick Cook’s would also suffer from intense scrutiny over verification.
"I can't get along without him," Peary said of Henson, who was an expert dog-sledder, hunter, craftsman, and navigator who even became fluent in Inuit. After his exploring days Henson worked as an official in the U.S. Customs House in New York City. He died in 1955.
Matthew Henson died in New York City on March 9, 1955, and was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery. The body of his wife, Lucy, was buried beside him in 1968. For nearly a century, Henson’s contributions to polar explorations were downplayed in favor of Peary. But in 2000, Henson was posthumously awarded National Geographic’s highest honor for exploration, the Hubbard Medal.
In a move to honor Henson, in 1987, President Ronald Reagan approved the transportation of Henson and Lucy's remains for reinterment at Arlington National Cemetery, per the request of Dr. S. Allen Counter of Harvard University. The national cemetery is also the burial site of Peary and his wife, Josephine. In 1996, an oceanographic survey ship was named the U.S.N.S Henson in his honor.
News round up by dopper0189, Black Kos Managing Editor
The conversation around racial integration in baseball often revolves around Jackie Robinson, who broke the major league color barrier in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
But a year earlier, history was being made in the city of Nashua, New Hampshire. It was here that Hall of Fame catcher Roy Campanella and Cy Young Award-winning pitcher Don Newcombe would join the Nashua Dodgers, making the minor league club the first racially integrated baseball team in the United States.
They played at the 86-year-old Holman Stadium, which celebrated their achievements Tuesday night by adding the venue to a stop on the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire. A marker was unveiled before the Nashua Silver Knights game. The team plays in the Futures League.
Already, the 2,825-seat stadium serves as a shrine of sorts to the players. Visitors are greeted with banners of the players at the entrance, and access streets leading to the venue have been named in their honor. Their Dodgers numbers — 36 for Newcombe, 39 for Campanella and 42 for Robinson — adorn the outfield brick wall.
The court is likely going to end affirmative action, but nothing in either affirmative action case is firmly about … affirmative action. Slate: The Real Story of the Affirmative Action Cases
This term, the Supreme Court is going to overturn affirmative action. It’s one of those 50-year-long projects by the Federalist Society and the conservative media to overturn this policy. Affirmative action has been more or less the most successful racial social justice policy in American history since Emancipation. But whatever. They’re going to get rid of it. They don’t like it.
Most of the coverage is going to be about the history of race-based admissions. You might get a little coverage on pitting race-based admissions versus legacy admissions and something like that. With the kinds of people who generally report on the Supreme Court, what you’re going to have is a lot of people who are like, “Little Timmy got into Dartmouth instead of Harvard, probably because somebody Black got in instead.” And they’re going to write their narratives about what happened in this case.
But this case has nothing to do with race-based admissions. It has nothing to do with racial discrimination.
The record of the case actually shows that the aggrieved party, this group of AAPI students who allegedly were discriminated against because of race-based admissions, actually weren’t discriminated against, just on the straight facts of the case. In the suit against North Carolina, the district court literally found there was no discrimination at North Carolina against AAPI students. AAPI students are more likely to get into the University of North Carolina than Black students. At Harvard, where I went, the district court actually did find a thing that maybe could have possibly discriminated against AAPI students, but that wasn’t anything about affirmative action. It’s a score that Harvard uses that’s based on your guidance counselor and your rec letters, and Asian American students were scoring lower on those rec letters—probably because of racism! After the Supreme Court overturns affirmative action, universities will still be able to use the racist thing that was actually hurting AAPI students. But they’re going to take away affirmative action.
It was impossible to listen to oral arguments this past Supreme Court term without being struck by the way this court’s conservative supermajority views the 14th Amendment. According to these justices, the key Reconstruction-era amendment was intended merely to promote a theory of “color blindness”—in which race is simply ignored—not to actively lift Black people from a previously subjugated status following the end of slavery. Indeed, the newest justice, Ketanji Brown Jackson, made headlines at one of her first oral arguments after she took pains to debunk this historically dubious theory.
In that voting rights case, Allen v. Milligan, the first Black woman to hold a seat on the Supreme Court explained that the drafters of the amendment intended that its vision be applied “in a race-conscious way” so that freed former slaves “were actually brought equal to everyone else in the society.” She went on to urge, “That’s not a race-neutral or race-blind idea.”
Unfortunately, Jackson will likely be raising these points again—this time in dissent—as the Supreme Court is poised to end the term by using the “color-blind” formulation to gut affirmative action in higher education, weaken or decimate a key part of the Voting Rights Act, and erode long-standing tribal protections for Native American families and their children. When the court does so, it will be another belated victory for William H. Rehnquist.
The late chief justice, who long sought to turn the 14th Amendment on its head, notoriously drafted a 1952 memo as a Supreme Court clerk that defended racial segregation in the South and the disastrous Plessy v. Ferguson decision on which the institution’s legality was based. Although Rehnquist denied during his confirmation hearings that the memo reflected his own views—saying they were meant to reflect those of Robert H. Jackson, the justice he was clerking for in 1952—a newly released court document, not previously reported, lays bare Rehnquist’s abhorrent true position on segregation as late as 1993.
That year, the then chief justice was still defending the logic of Plessy in no uncertain terms and using his position as a justice to block the court from acknowledging that the 14th Amendment barred segregation. “The Fourteenth Amendment prohibits discrimination; it does not require integration, and I think it is a mistake to intimate that it does even as a ‘goal,’ ” Rehnquist wrote in a memo to Justice Sandra Day O’Connor as part of an effort to have her remove a passage from an election decision. (For good measure, Rehnquist also requested that O’Connor remove a suggestion that the Civil War was fought in part to secure voting rights for Black people.)
Florida is not just where “woke goes to die,” but also where a sense of social obligation takes a back seat to weaponizing culture wars for political gain. That is the future that awaits Louisiana if it continues down the path of division in the mold of the Sunshine State. The Grio: Don’t let Louisiana become the next Florida
There’s an effort afoot to make Louisiana the next Florida.
Namely, there are some public officials who would see fit to introduce a climate of fear, suspicion and reprisal to our public institutions, schools and universities, all as part of a cynical power play that will do nothing to address the real challenges we face as a state.
In April, Louisiana Republican Party officials voted to prohibit the study of racism at colleges and universities. Quickly thereafter, Louisiana GOP state Rep. Valerie Hodges submitted House Resolution 13, which “requests school-level reporting by public elementary, secondary, and postsecondary schools relative to programs and activities related to critical race theory; diversity, equity, and inclusion; or transformative social emotional learning.”
From a purely procedural perspective, mandated reporting is an unnecessary burden on schools, especially those already facing significant resource constraints. Additionally, the resolution will discourage schools from implementing important programs that are crucial to creating inclusive learning environments. The resolution is nothing short of an attack on education in our state and an attempt to silence important conversations about race and equity in our schools.
It’s also an attempt to deflect attention and resources from the other big and important issues that urgently need to be addressed by our state government. Rather than dealing with the actual challenges we face, including ranking dead last among all 50 states for public health measures, addressing a crime rate that is second-highest nationally, or addressing long-standing economic and social inequities that are dragging down our economy and its future, the Louisiana GOP wants to distract and divide with a do-nothing agenda driven by white grievance.
The day before President Biden traveled to Japan this month, he managed a breakthrough with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in the Oval Office.
The two had spent weeks trying to reach a deal to lift the debt ceiling and avert a potential financial catastrophe, but they had made little progress. Then Biden told McCarthy (R-Calif.) he was delegating two of his top aides to serve as the lead negotiators with House Republicans: Steve Ricchetti, a counselor to the president, and Shalanda Young, the director of the Office of Management and Budget.
McCarthy immediately turned around to look at Young, who was nearby, and complimented her as “well respected” and “well liked” on both sides of the aisle, according to people familiar with his comments who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a private meeting.
As McCarthy left the White House, he signaled a renewed optimism about the talks, telling reporters that he thought it was “possible to get a deal by the end of the week” even as he emphasized that no substantive issues had been resolved. “What has changed in this meeting is the president changed the scope of who’s all negotiating,” McCarthy said.
Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, has signed into law the world’s harshest anti-LGBTQ+ bill, which allows the death penalty for homosexual acts.
The move immediately drew condemnation from many Ugandans as well as widespread international outrage. The UK government said it was appalled by the “deeply discriminatory” bill, which it said will “damage Uganda’s international reputation”.
US President Joe Biden decried the act as “shameful” and “tragic violation of universal human rights”. He said Washington was considering “sanctions and restriction of entry into the United States against anyone involved in serious human rights abuses” – a suggestion that Ugandan officials may face repercussions.
Early on Monday, the speaker of the Ugandan parliament, Anita Annet Among, released a statement on social media confirming Museveni had assented to the law first passed by MPs in March. It imposes the death penalty or life imprisonment for certain same-sex acts, up to 20 years in prison for “recruitment, promotion and funding” of same-sex “activities”, and anyone convicted of “attempted aggravated homosexuality” faces a 14-year sentence.
Described by the UN high commissioner for human rights, Volker Türk, as “shocking and discriminatory”, the bill was passed by all but two of 389 MPs on 21 March. Museveni had 30 days to either sign the legislation into law, return it to parliament for revisions or veto it. He sent it back to MPs in April, with a request for reconsideration. The bill would have still become law without the president’s assent if he returned it a second time.
WELCOME TO THE FRIDAY PORCH
IF YOU ARE NEW TO THE BLACK KOS COMMUNITY, GRAB A SEAT, SOME CYBER EATS, RELAX, AND INTRODUCE YOURSELF.