Sports

Who Was E.B. Henderson?

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Edwin Bancroft Henderson was born on Nov. 24, 1883 in Washington, D.C. About 20 years later, he introduced basketball to African Americans in D.C. and along the entire East Coast on an organized basis for the first time in history, earning him status as the "grandfather of black basketball."

Henderson's father was a day laborer and his mother a homemaker. She taught him to read and sent him to the Library of Congress to practice reading. After graduating as an honor roll student from M Street High School, Henderson earned his B.A. degree from Howard University, followed by his M.A. from Columbia University, and finally, his Ph.D. in athletic training from Central Chiropractic College in Kansas City, Missouri.

In 1904, while teaching during the day at Bowen Elementary School in D.C., Henderson attended Howard University Medical School at night to become a physician. When the university dropped its night school program, Henderson was no longer able to attend. For the next two summers, he went to summer school at Harvard University and became the first African-American man to become certified to teach Physical Education in public schools. After Harvard, Henderson brought the game of basketball to African-Americans in Washington, D.C, New York, and other East Coast cities.

Henderson organized the Interscholastic Athletic Association for black schools in 1906. He was also captain and star player of the Twelfth Street YMCA. They went undefeated in 1909 and 1910 and captured the national championship among black basketball teams. At the same time, Henderson served as the Director of the Department of Physical Education for the District of Columbia’s segregated black schools.

Henderson was also an author whose writing provided a sense of pride and academic distinction that had previously been missing within the African American community. In 1910, he published the first in a series of four books titled Official Handbook: Inter-Scholastic Athletic Association of Middle Atlantic States, which describe athletic organization within the segregated African-American community. In 1939, he published The Negro in Sports, which was the first compendium ever written about African-American athletics. His second edition of this book, published 10 years later, became very popular due to the beginnings of integration of professional sports. In 1968, he wrote The Black Athlete: Emergence and Arrival.

Henderson wrote over 3,000 letters-to-the-editor in his lifetime. The Washington Post said he was the most published letter writer in its history. His letters focused on civil rights issues as they related to African-Americans. Henderson was the voice for change for African-Americans in the entire metropolitan region and other cities along the east coast. His letter writing on civil rights continued up to his dying day of February 3, 1977. At age 93, Henderson died a sports historian, educator, administrator, coach, athlete, civil rights activist—and most of all, a hero.

This information comes from the Black Past Remembered & Reclaimed, Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation, and Black Fives Foundation.

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