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The Latest Dreams of Barbara Hillary, the First African-American Woman to Travel to the North Pole

Black Women in History

The Latest Dreams of Barbara Hillary, the First African-American Woman to Travel to the North Pole

By Lauren Collins via

The last time I heard from Barbara Hillary, she had just got back to Arverne, Queens, from Longyearbyen, Norway. This was in 2007; she was seventy-five, and I was twenty-seven. I don’t remember how we initially got in touch, and neither does Hillary. My very strong suspicion is that she called me up and launched into some long, entertaining explanation of how she was about to become the first African-American woman to travel to the North Pole. A month before she was due to leave, I went to see Hillary at her gym in Rockaway Park. There she was, pumping iron, slogging away on the treadmill, and fretting about how she was going to raise the remaining nine thousand dollars that she needed to make the trip, which would require eight to ten hours a day of cross-country skiing. This was before Kickstarter and GoFundMe. Hillary was sending letters around cold, without much success. “Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg referred me to the Department for the Aging, which sent a form letter of things I could do in the senior center,” she told me. “Mister, don’t you get it? If I’m going to the North Pole, why the hell do I need a senior center?”

Hillary was going. That much was clear. In March, 2007, I wrote a Talk of the Town story about her, and New Yorker readers responded enthusiastically, making contributions to the project (someone even sent a lucky two-dollar bill) and tracking its status. Hillary reached the top of the world a little more than …

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I am a future butterfly at the stage of growth when I am turning into an adult. I am enclosed in a hard case shell formed by love, family, and friends. It is the hardest stage of becoming a black butterfly. You will encounter many hardships only to come out stronger and better than what you went in. At this stage, you are finding out who you truly are and how to love yourself.

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