Barbara Hillary, The First Black Woman To Reach The North And South Poles, Dies At 88

The first Black woman on record to reach the North and South Poles has died.

Barbara Hillary was 75 when she reached the North Pole and 79 when she reached the South Pole, the New York Times reports

On Saturday (Nov. 23), she passed away in a hospital in Far Rockaway, Queens at the age of 88. Her death was announced on her website

According to a post on her Twitter account, Hillary “suffered significant health decline in recent months.” 


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On her Twitter page, she’s described as an “Explorer. Activist. Cancer survivor.” It also states that she reached the North Pole in 2007 and four years later in 2011 she reached the South Pole. 

Hillary had cancer in her 20s and lung cancer in her 60s, before trekking to the Poles, the New York Times reports. 

She was an adventure seeker, who, after a 55-year career as a nurse, began her seeking by dog-sledding in Quebec and photographing polar bears in Manitoba, Canada. 

With no funding or an organization to back her, Hillary made her way to the North Pole with only 25 percent of her breathing capacity, following surgery for her lung cancer, simply because she learned no other African-American woman had done it before, the New York Times reports. 

She told The Seattle Times in 2007, according to the New York Times, that she had to learn how to ski since she had never done so before the trip. 

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“It wasn’t a popular sport in Harlem,” she said at the time. 

After the success of her first Pole expedition, she yearned for more and stood at the South Pole on Jan. 6, 2011, the New York Times reports. 

The inspiring woman delivered a commencement speech at her alma mater, the New School in New York City, in 2017, and described her childhood, according to the New York Times.

“We were poor,” she said. “We were Depression-poor, but there was no such thing as mental poverty in our home.” 

Her travels to the Poles followed the first Black man, Matthew Henson, who set foot on the North Pole in 1909, and the first woman, Ann Bancroft, who reached the top of the world in 1986, the New York Times reports. 

The post on her Twitter page about her death also said, “She lives on in history, in the hearts of those who loved her, and in the inspiration she gave to so many.” 


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