Black History Month

5 Pioneering Black Explorers

Rebecca Herman

The travelling that is possible today, the sights we get to enjoy and the endless possibilities for adventure would be nothing without the explorers that have come before us! From land to sea, and even space, this list of explorers will take you through history and show you the discoveries, achievements and expeditions from each of these amazing people!


Starting all the way back in 1534, we have Esteban who explored a mighty 2000 miles around parts of Western Texas, Northern Mexico and then all the way down to Mexico City. Esteban, formally Mustafa Azennouri, was sold as a Moorish slave in 1521. He arrived in America in 1527, in an area known at the time as ‘La Florida’ which was made up of modern-day Florida as well as parts of Northern Mexico.

A boat crash on the way to Panuco and Rio de las Palmas saw few survivors, and so Esteban then become enslaved by Coahuiltecan Indians. He managed to escape in 1534 with four others – which is when he began his exploration. As mentioned earlier, Esteban walked thousands of miles within the region of Mexico and the south of North America. Such findings are a massive part of understanding the landscape of this area and contributed to Cabeza de Vaca’s book Relaion in 1542, which is the first publication to delve into the people, flora and fauna of North America.

This trail became extremely significant for transport and travelling within California

James Beckwourth

Next, we have James Beckwourth, who is most famous for discovering the Beckwourth Pass in California. Beckwourth was born into slavery in Virginia around the year of 1798. He was eventually freed, which is when Beckwourth trained as a blacksmith. He later moved to the Crow Nation (Native Americans, living mainly in Southern Montana), and began his work as a fur trapper. It was in spring 1850 when Beckwourth discovered the lowest mountain range in Sierra Nevada, California, which has an elevation of only 5221ft. This trail became extremely significant for transport and traveling within California, for example, it led the first settlers to Marysville in 1851.

Matthew Henson

Matthew Henson is probably the most well-known explorer on this list – most famous for the discovery of the North Pole. Born in 1866, Henson grew up in Maryland. In a team under Robert Peary, Henson attended expeditions in the Arctic seven times, spanning over two decades. But of course, Henson’s best-known voyage was on the 6th of April 1909 with the discovery of the North Pole, where Henson may have been first to reach the spot. He was the first African American to join the Explorers club in 1937 and was awarded the Peary Polar Expedition Medal.

She attended French lessons until she was able to go to France and get her license there

Bessie Coleman

Born in 1892, Bessie Colman was the first African American pilot in the USA. After her brothers fought in World War One, Coleman was inspired and becoming a pilot became her newfound dream. However, at the time, because Coleman was African American and a woman, she was unable to train in the USA. She attended French lessons until she was able to go to France and get her licence there – which she successfully did on the 15th of June 1921.

From there, Coleman thrived; she became known for her loop-the-loop and other impressive skills, and even coined the nicknames ‘Brave Bessie’ and ‘Queen Bessie’. Even after a crash in 1923, Coleman continued to prosper, she travelled round the country speaking to the masses and refused to speak if the audience was segregated. Unfortunately, Coleman did pass away in a plane crash later in her career. However, her achievements will continue to live on and inspire everyone to never give up on dreams – even if they seem impossible.

Guion Bluford

And last, but by no means least, we have Guion Bluford. Bluford, unlike most explorers, did all his traveling a bit further afield – all the way to space! Bluford grew up in Philadelphia and attended Pennstate University where his curiosity and career in aerospace engineering started. Bluford served in the air force, totalling a massive 144 military missions. He went on to join the NASA astronaut corps in 1979 where he began to train. Bluford was the first African American in space and holds a grand total of 688 hours in space over four missions before retiring in 1993 for a well-deserved rest! He was made a colonel for his achievements and even made on the Space Hall of Fame.

Rebecca Herman

Featured image courtesy of Jakob Braun via Unsplash. Image licence found here. No changes were made to the image.

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One Comment
  • Timna Levinson
    31 October 2020 at 18:10
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    Very interesting – thank you

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