Without fanfare and headlines, some people make a difference

Jul 18 2017 Published by under Uncategorized

This story, obituary, in the NYTimes, about Allen Counter, reminds me that often we do not know, or in this case, for me, forget, about people who have done much to make our world a better place. In short, Counter, a Harvard neurobiologist, did work that took him around the world, to remote places and indigenous people. He was also a POC (although I heard him speak once, and he referred to himself as "black"), and committed to recognizing the histories of POC. In particular, because he did work in Greenland, he was interested in Matthew Henson, who had accompanied Peary on his 1909 North Pole expedition.

As was the case (and yes, there is sexism/imperialism) Henson fathered children in Greenland, and Counter went to find them. He wrote about these children and as the obituary says he then worked at "reclaiming the father's [Henson] reputation".

Long described as Peary’s valet, Henson was actually much more: He was an expert navigator who spoke Inuit, drove sled teams with a skilled hand and knew how to build snow shelters.

In his 1912 memoir, “A Negro Explorer at the North Pole,” Henson recalled Peary explaining to the members of his expedition why Henson would be making the final five-day push to the Pole with him, quoting him as saying: “He must go with me. I cannot make it without him.”

Henson was important and deserves recognition. So does Counter for his work on deafness, his work setting up the "Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations" and making sure that Matthew Henson was not lost to history.

One response so far

  • chall says:

    To me, it's all about showing that there was "other people involved" in things that happened earlier in time. Pointing out that there have always been extraordinary people of colour, females, children, or other disadvantaged/non-white males helping shape the world we live in.

    It's people like Henson who should be mentioned in history books to indicate for lots more occasions that there is seldom One (white) Man but rather more complex. Like Tenzing Norgay who got credit together with Edmund Hillary for being a team climb. Very seldom is it a one man expedition - unless explicitly stated "solo" and sometimes not even then.

    /getting off my soap box 😉

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