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What’s in a name? A lot, actually

Matthew A. Henson, far right, an African American explorer who accompanied Robert Peary, second from right, on an expedition to the Far North. (Photo: GreatBlackHeroes.com)

A note to lawmakers: Double check the names. It’s as simple as that.

But the Assembly hasn’t done it in a while.

For the 13th time since 2003, the California Assembly will commemorate February 2016 as Black History Month and is poised — yet again — to misspell the name of African American explorer Matthew A. Henson.

Assembly Concurrent Resolution 118 recognizes that Henson – or “Hensen,” as it called him in the latest version before it was corrected — is a significant historical figure and is among those “noted prominently in the history books of students nationwide,” like Booker T. Washington, Dr. Charles Drew, Jesse Owens and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Henson, who died in 1955, accompanied Robert Peary on a record-breaking trek in 1900 to the farthest point north ever reached by previous explorers. In 1909, in a separate expedition, Peary and Henson reached what they announced was the North Pole, although subsequent scientific studies showed they may have been a few miles short.

An oceanographic survey ship was commissioned in Henson’s honor in 1996.

Actually, the Legislature is getting a little better at Henson’s name.

Last year, the spelling mistake was caught and fixed: “Hensen” was just one letter off, even if it doesn’t pass most spellchecks.

From 2003 through 2011, the Senate and Assembly spelled Henson’s name as “Hansen.”

In Sen. Curren Price’s 2012 resolution, Henson’s name was spelled correctly — although the resolution had to be amended to reflect the right spelling. That correction was not carried over into following years, however.

Other passages of the resolution appear to be fine. It commemorates Black History Month, for example, by talking about the “Father of Black History,” Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson, who started Negro History Week in 1926 to encourage research and sharing stories of the African American heritage.

The resolution also notes the contributions of Crispus Attucks, who was the first casualty of the American Revolution at the Boston massacre. Other honors mentioned recognize inventions by African Americans, including critical air-conditioning mechanisms and the blood plasma bag.

Ed’s Note: Updates 4th graf to show spelling of Henson was corrected.


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