Regarded as the Grandfather of Black Basketball, Edwin “EB” Bancroft Henderson was honored this past weekend by dedication of a statue to him at the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) sports complex also named after him on the Van Ness campus. The ceremony was highlighted by a number of speakers and family members who were in attendance to give testimonials on this giant of a man’s contributions as a noted author, teacher, coach and administrator in the disciplines of physical education and athletics.
A 1904 graduate of the university when it was, Miner College, Henderson would later earn his graduate degree from Harvard and became the first African American man to earn certification to teach physical education in the United States.
His contributions to Black athletes over a half century are too numerous to list. His storied career includes the formation of YMCA programs geared toward getting Black people to participate in health and physical education. He is also credited with the formation of the Eastern Board of Officials which gave structure to the sport of organized basketball for Black players.
His efforts were also instrumental in the forming of the CIAA conference and the District of Columbia Public Schools athletic program.
“From a historical perspective, EB had the blueprint,” said Barrington D. Scott, a member of the UDC Board of Trustees and a key driving force in the honor. “He was on a mission to create opportunities for Blacks in sports at a very challenging time. His dedication and vision helped take the participation of Blacks in sports, recreation and education to a new level that changed the landscape forever.”
Scott said that the project to name a building in 2021 was the first of a two-stage process.
“We realized that there were no buildings on the UDC campus named after anyone,” explained Scott, an alum of UDC. “They were all numbered. So we pushed for the naming of the athletic complex as a part of Stage 1.”
In February 2022, UDC renamed its sports complex to the Dr. Edwin Bancroft Henderson Sports Complex in his honor.
The Stage 2 proposal by Scott featured the statue in Henderson’s honor.
”It was certainly a team effort,” Scott said. “It started with pledges and donations from alums with a generous donation from the Ted Leonis Group. It was only fitting that he received this prestigious honor. His contributions to Blacks in the area of sports but also in the education arena is unmatched. We have to make sure that we preserve the history of those like EB who make significant contributions.”
Classically trained master sculptor Brian Hanlon was selected to create the E.B. Henderson statue.
His pioneering efforts as an organizer and activist laid the foundation for athletics in the Black community in the District of Columbia and the United States. And as a public school teacher in Washington, D.C., his students included such notable figures as musician Duke Ellington and medical pioneer Dr. Charles R. Drew.
Henderson co-authored the Spalding “Official Handbook of the Inter-Scholastic Athletic Association of Middle Atlantic States,” from 1910-1913. Additionally, he wrote “The Negro in Sports” in 1939, revised in 1949, and “The Black Athlete,” in 1968. His estimated number of published articles is over 3,000.
Henderson was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013 and the UDC Athletic Hall of Fame.
“We are so very proud of his accomplishments,” said grandson, Edwin Bancroft Henderson II, following the ceremony. “He was long overdue for induction into the Naismith Hall of Fame. A lot has to do with the fact that he never did the things he did for personal reasons; it was all based on paving the way for future generations.”
Of all his grandfather’s lofty accomplishments, Henderson II said one sticks out more than others.
“To be the first to create the opportunity for Blacks to learn to play the game with officials and rules is remarkable when you think about it,” the proud grandson said. “That is an important part of his legacy.”
Henderson has an award named after him that recognizes minority SHAPE America members, who have proven years of dedication to scholarship, mentorship and service to minorities and under-served populations within their profession.