First in History - Men

Matthew Alexander Henson

August 8, 1886 to March 9, 1955

The First Person to Reach the North Pole

Matthew Henson was born August 6, 1866, in Charles County Maryland to free African American parents.  At age 13, he began working on a ship, based in Baltimore. The ship’s captain taught him to read, write, and navigate. Henson left the job due to racist treatment he received from many of the ship’s crewmembers. He later worked as a store clerk in Washington, DC where he met Robert Peary who hired him as a valet.

Henson and Peary were together on eight arctic expeditions over 22 years. On April 6, 1909, while on an expedition to the North Pole, Henson and four Inuit men, Ookeah, Oatah, Egingwah and Seeglow, arrived at the North Pole, some 45 minutes ahead of Peary. In a National Geographic article, Profile: African American North Pole Explorer Matthew Henson by Anna Brendle, dated January 15, 2003, Ms. Brendle reported that Henson greeted Peary by saying, “I think I’m the first man on top of the world.” According to Ms. Brendle, Peary became angry and would not speak to Henson afterwards.

Matthew Henson died in 1955 and was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York City. In 1968, his wife, Lucy Ross was laid to rest in Woodlawn close to her husband.  In 1987, President Ronald Reagan granted permission for both bodies to be reinterred in Arlington Cemetery, at the request of Harvard Professor, Dr. S. Allen Counter.  They were reinterred near the graves of Robert Peary and his wife Josephine Deibitsch Peary.

In 2000, Matthew Alexander Henson was posthumously awarded the Hubbard Medal, National Geographic's highest honor. His great niece, Audrey Mebane accepted the award on his behalf.

First L: 
Matthew Henson, (public domain). R: Mathew Henson grave marker.                         
Second L: Mathew Henson grave marker. R. Mathew Henson grave marker and Robert Peary monument.

Bottom L, R: Robert Peary monument.

Photos taken April 30, 2010.  Black and white Public Domain.

"Matthew Henson", Web. 

"Matthew Henson" Arlington National Cemetery -, 

Michael E. Ross, "Black Man on Top of the World",

Brendle, Anna. "Profile: African-American North Pole Explorer Matthew Henson" 

Site Visits
Matthew Henson gravesite. Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA. 
Robert Peary gravesite.  Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA. 


Arlington National Cemetery.

Joseph "The Old Master" Gans
November 11, 1874 to August 10, 1910

Joseph Gans, the first African American World Boxing Champion. In 1902, he defeated Frank Erne in a lightweight title rematch. Inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990. In September of 1906, Gans fought and won a 42 round title bout, the longest in boxing history, against Oscar "Battling" Nelson. The fight took place in the searing heat of Goldfield, Nevada.  Gans reigned as boxing champion from 1902 to 1908.

                    - Total fights 201
                    - Wins 162
                    - Wins by KO 106
                    - Losses 10
                    - Draws 17
                    - No Contests 12

 Joe Gans, public domain. Video:   Joe Gans vs. Kid Herman. 

Bottom L, R: Joe Gans cemetery headstone. 

"Joe Gans vs, Kid Herman.", Web. 

"Joe Gans - The Old Master.", Web. 

Site Visit
Joe Gans gravesite. Mt. Auburn. Baltimore, MD. 


Mt. Auburn Cemetery, 2630 Waterview Avenue, Baltimore, Maryland 21230. Phone: 410-547-0337.

Barack H. Obama

b. August 4, 1961
44th President of the United States Of America

On January 20, 2009, Barack Obama became the first African American President of the United States of America. In addition, on January 20, 2009, Michelle Obama became the first African American First Lady of the United States of America. President Barack Obama, on October 9, 2009, became the first and only African American President to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

President Barack Obama. Courtesy of the White House.  R: President and First Lady Michelle Obama.

"President Barack Obama.", Web. 


Return to top


All photos property of unless otherwise indicated.