Allen Counter was a Harvard University professor and neurologist who achieved much in his career on his own. He also helped bring Black explorer Matthew Henson back to the limelight and connected Henson’s Inuit descendants to their American relatives.
Counter was born July 8, 1944 in Americus, Georgia. He was raised primarily in South Florida in the towns of Boynton Beach and West Palm Beach. He attended undergrad at Tennessee State University, and earned his Ph. D. From Case Western Reserve University. Counter earned his M.D. From Sweden’s Karolinksa Institute.
After joining Harvard in the ’70’s as a postdoctoral fellow and neurophysiologist at the university’s medical school, Counter became a fixture at the institution. He was then named to the National Advisory Mental Health Council of the National Institute of Mental Health. Counter opposed the council’s aims in studying human brains using electrodes and psychosurgery, claiming that such practices were racist.
During this period, Counter, who admired Henson, learned from colleagues in Sweden that the explorer had fathered children in Greenland during his expeditions with Robert E. Peary in the early 1900’s. In the mid-eighties, Counter was able to travel to Northern Greenland and encountered a small contingent of dark-skinned Inuit people said to be related to Henson.
Counter met with Anaukaq, the son of Henson and Akatingwah, an Eskimo woman. At the time, Anaukaq was an older man with children and nearly two dozen grandchildren. Counter arranged for Anaukaq and other family members to travel to America to connect with their distant family members. Counter wrote about his connection with the Henson Inuits in his 1991 book, North Pole Legacy: Black, White and Eskimo.
Another of Counter’s notable achievements is he co-founding the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations in 1981 alongside then Harvard president David Bok. The foundation helped improve race relations on the campus and became the hallmark of Counter’s time there.
According to Counter’s daughter, Philippa Counter, her father died from cancer.
He was 73.
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