On August 8th, 1866, Matthew Alexander Henson was born in Nanjemoy, Maryland, to parents who were free from slavery and worked as sharecroppers in Charles County, Maryland. Like many black Americans at the time, Henson’s family was victims of attacks by white terrorist groups. His mother died when he was between the ages of four and seven, his father, now a single parent was raising a boy and three girls, and working to make ends meet. At the age of eleven, Henson’s father died, forcing him and his sisters to be raised by family members. Matthew Henson moved to the Washington D.C. area to live with an uncle who was able to pay for his schooling. Unfortunately, Henson’s uncle died after only living with him for a year. He would still attend school after being inspired by a Frederick Douglass speech he was able to witness. He moved to Baltimore, Maryland to find work, which he did find, he worked as a cabin boy on a merchant ship called the Katie Hines, which traveled from continent to continent, from Asia to Africa, exposing Henson to the world for the first time. The captain of the Katie Hines became fond of Henson and took the time to teach him how to read and write. Unfortunately, another important person in Henson’s life passed away, Captain Childs, captain of the Katie Hines passed in 1884, from there, Henson moved back to Washington D.C. to make a living.
At this time, Henson was a world traveler, he developed skills to make a living, and this was just the beginning of his pioneering journey. In 1887, he found work at the clothing store B.H. Steinemetz and Sons. This was the location where Henson would meet Commander Robert E. Peary, who was a famed explorer and officer in the US Navy. The two men had a conversation and during the conversation, Peary learned of Henson’s travels and exploration skills, he found Henson to be useful to him and recruited him to accompany his team on a exploration in Nicaragua, with the intention of building a canal to connect the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Peary was so highly impressed with Henson’s exploration and navigation skills that he hired him full-time to accompany him on future explorations; Henson was Peary’s “first man”, and accompanied him on explorations for two decades. Peary and Henson explored the Arctic, Canada, Greenland, and parts of North America known for freezing climates. During their time exploring the North American Arctic, Henson and Peary became familiar with the landscapes and the indigenous people of these areas, the Inuit. Both Henson and Peary even married women who were Inuit.
In 1893, Henson and Peary went on a two-year journey to Greenland to chart an ice cap; the exploration team almost died of starvation because they ran out of resources; they were able to survive by eating their sled dogs. The two men returned to Greenland a year after leaving from their trip that almost took their lives, this time they were collecting large pieces of meteorites, which they sold and used the money to fund their explorations. By this time, Henson and Peary were interested in reaching the North Pole, they made several attempts, some of the expeditions ended with people losing their lives, but Henson and Peary kept pushing to reach their goal. President Theodore Roosevelt supplied Henson and Peary with a ship that could cut through the frozen ice of the arctic, the ship helped them get closer to the North Pole. The ship did help, but their team got stuck in the ice as they moved closer to the landmass, so they aborted the mission.
1908, is the year that Henson and Peary would make history. With over twenty years of experience traveling the world and exploring the arctic, Henson was primed for this expedition. He was able to build durable sleds, properly train the sled dogs for the mission, and his knowledge of the land greatly helped. Henson and Peary were accompanied by four Inuit people and forty sled dogs, the team reached their destination at the North Pole, led by Mr. Matthew Henson. Even though Henson was the primary leader and navigator of the expedition, Peary, the white man, was given all the credit for leading the expedition, and Henson was given the credit of a helper. After the expedition, Peary spent years working to prove that he and Henson did reach the North Pole. Peary was even forced to testify before congress to prove the mission was real. As for Henson, after his time exploring the world, he worked as a customs clerk in New York, before publishing his book A Negro Explorer at the North Pole in 1912. He became an honorary member of the Explorers Club in New York City and published his biography Dark Companion in 1947. Matthew Henson died on March 9th, 1955, in New York, with his story told from his perspective, but still being hidden by American historians. A black man was the primary leader and the most important component of the explorations with Robert Peary. Peary literally depended on Henson to help him on his expeditions. It is said that after it was all done, Peary took the bulk of the credit. But we are here today to make sure our people know the truth of Matthew Henson. Mr. Mathew Alexander Henson, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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On June 28th, 1903, Malcolm Ivan Meredith Nurse was born in Tacarigua, Trinidad, to parents James Hubert Alphonso Nurse and Anna Susanna Symister. James Nurse was the great-grandson of an Asante warrior from Ghana, who was enslaved in Barbados. James worked as a schoolmaster. Anna Symister’s roots trace back to Antigua, and she worked as a naturalist. He spent his early educational years attending grade school in Trinidad’s capital city, Port-of-Spain, before attending Port-of-Spain’s government-assisted selective Catholic secondary school, St Mary’s College. After attending St Mary’s College for two years, Padmore transferred to Pamphylian High School, where he would earn his high school diploma in 1918. For the next five years, Padmore was able to hone his writing skills working as a reporter for the Trinidad Publishing Company. Even though he was working and making money for himself, he wanted to further his education. Padmore decided to immigrate to the United States in 1924 to study medicine. He would land in Nashville, Tennessee, and attend Fisk University to further his medical studies. 1924, is also the year that Padmore would marry a woman named Julia Semper who lived with him in the U.S. and they produced a daughter named Blyden. Padmore would leave Fisk University and move to New York City, New York to attend New York University, before transferring to Howard University in Washington, D.C.
While attending Howard University, Padmore was introduced to the Workers Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA). He officially became a member of the CPUSA in 1927, before joining the party, he changed his name from Malcolm Ivan Meredith Nurse to George Padmore. He participated in the party’s American Negro Labor Congress, a movement used to organize and advance the rights of African Americans via the communist party. Padmore’s work within the communist party was being noticed by communist politician Wimmiam Z. Foster. Foster recommended Padmore to the party as a future leader, so Padmore was rewarded by going to Moscow, Russia to give a report to the Communist International about the formation of the Trade Union Unity League. Padmore’s report was pleasing to the Communist International so he was asked to head the Negro Bureau of the Red International of Labor Unions, also known as Profintern. His popularity was growing, and his responsibilities were increasing as well. He was elected to serve on the Moscow City Soviet Workers Council. Padmore would also begin using his writing skills and Profintern’s resources to write and distribute literature in pamphlets to the people of Russia. He would also write in Moscow’s newspaper the Moscow Daily News, which was an English-language newspaper. As one of the principal organizers for Profintern, he contributed to the organizing of an international conference that was held in Hamburg, Germany. As a result of the conference, black labor leaders from across Africa, and throughout countries along the Atlantic coast, gathered to form the International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers (ITUCNW). The organization’s mission was said to be a transnational platform for the African people it served.
During this time, Padmore moved from Moscow, Russia, to Vienna, Austria where he worked as the editor for a newspaper owned by the ITUCNW called The Negro Worker. Padmore was living in Hamburg, Germany in 1931, where he produced a great amount of literature for the ITUCNW, such as magazines and pamphlets, to help push the message of liberation for African people. Padmore’s relationship with the communist party was coming to an end. The Nazi Party had taken control over Germany by 1933, the office of The Negro Worker newspaper was raided by Nazi extremist groups looking to suppress any movement that wasn’t in support of the Nazi Party. Because of the Nazi Party gaining power, Padmore was deported to England, the ITUCNW was disabled, and The Negro Worker newspaper was suspended. Later in 1933, Padmore became aware of the Comintern’s intent to become aligned with colonial powers that oppressed African people, so he gave up his membership with the ITUCNW. After renouncing his membership with the ITUCNW, he refused to explain his actions to the International Control Commission, so he was dismissed from the communist party and the communist movement in 1934. Padmore was also prohibited from entering the United States because of his ties to the communist party. Now living in France, Padmore continued to write and find other means of support for the liberation of African people. With the help of British heiress and writer Nancy Cunard, and the Lawrence and Wishart publishing company, Padmore was able to write and publish his book How Britain Rules Africa in 1936. He was also one of the few men of African descent, at the time, to publish a book in the UK. And the book was popular enough to be translated into German.
1934, was also the year Padmore moved to London, England, and joined a group of savvy and skilled African writers using their pens to articulate and push ideas of Pan-Africanism throughout the diaspora. He was able to reunite with a childhood friend, the influential Mr. C.L.R. James, who was cementing himself as a stout Pan-Africanist, writer, and speaker. Padmore became the chairperson for the International African Service Bureau (IASB), an organization founded by James, and a platform Padmore could use to continue his fight for African people globally. Padmore was serving in an organization with people such as Amy Ashwood Garvey and Jomo Kenyatta. Writing became the vehicle Padmore and his colleagues decided to use to spread ideas of independence and Pan-Africanism across the diaspora. Accompanied by Jomo Kenyatta, Kwame Nkrumah, and Peter Abrahams, Padmore, and his colleagues produced a large amount of literature ranging from pamphlets to books.
1945, was the year C.L.R. James was instrumental in the meeting of George Padmore and Kwame Nkrumah in London, England. It was also the year that Padmore organized the Manchester Pan-African Conference, which was the fifth Pan-African Conference, attended by African leaders from around the globe. The mission of this conference was to create a comprehensive plan to decolonize African people and nations globally. Padmore’s relationship with James and other writers in London became strained over time, there is even evidence of writings describing each other in unflattering words. Padmore was able to maintain his relationship with Nkrumah and was even able to become a writer for the Accra Evening News publication in 1947. In 1953, he wrote the book The Gold Coast Revolution. He followed that book by publishing Pan-Africanism or Communism? In 1954. Padmore moved to Ghana to become an advisor for Nkrumah, but it didn’t last long because of health reasons. He moved back to London to receive treatment for cirrhosis of the liver. George Padmore died on September 23rd, 1959. He received many honors, dedications, and awards for his contributions to African people. In total, he published thirteen works of literature and contributed to hundreds of magazine articles, newspaper articles, and pamphlets, to help African people gain their independence globally. Mr. Malcolm Ivan Meredith Nurse, aka, George Padmore, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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