More than a century ago, Dr. E.B. Henderson introduced the then-nascent game of basketball to swathes of African-American youth in the District.
This counted among his many achievements as an educator, athlete, referee, basketball organizer and civil rights activist.
And to honor his contributions, the University of the District of Columbia [UDC] recently renamed its sports facility after Henderson and launched a scholarship in his name. A ribbon-cutting ceremony attracted more than 100 community members, including several of his descendants, anxious to pay homage to the man known as the “Grandfather of Black Basketball.”
“We’re building critical mass toward telling Dr. E.B. Henderson’s story and it’s well past time,” said Edwin Henderson, the grandson of Dr. E.B. Henderson and author of an upcoming book exploring Henderson’s life and multifaceted career.
Dr. E.B. Henderson graduated in 1904 at the top of his class from Miner Normal School, then part of what would eventually become UDC. He went on to receive a bachelor’s degree from Howard University, a master’s degree from Columbia University and a Ph.D. in athletic training from Central Chiropractic College in Kansas City, Missouri.
Summer sessions at Harvard University introduced Henderson to the game of basketball which he would bring back to the District. Between 1926 and 1954, he served as director of health and physical education for D.C.’s Black public schools. He also launched a chapter of the NAACP in Fairfax, Va. He would later serve as president of the Virginia NAACP and became a charter member of its D.C. chapter.
Though he never learned the game of basketball from his grandfather, Edwin Henderson said he relished spending summers with him at Highland Beach in Anne Arundel County, Md. toward the end of his life. Often listening to him reminisce about his coaching days, the he enjoyed staying up late and watching the NBA Finals with his grandfather in the late 1960s when Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics and Wilt Chamberlain of the Los Angeles Lakers went toe to toe for the championship.
In 2013, the late Henderson became a posthumous inductee in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame after Henderson and his wife brought to light his accomplishments. Five years later, Henderson entered UDC’s Athletic Hall of Fame. Later this year, the Washington Wizards, in alignment with the release of the Henderson biography, will reportedly highlight Henderson’s contributions to the game of basketball.
“If you want to know about [the insertion of] Black people in basketball, you should start at the beginning,” said Edwin Henderson, a Falls Church, Va. resident.
“When Dr. Henderson learned the game in 1904, he taught the sport, made teams and leagues and trained referees. He introduced basketball on a wide scale with the African-American population. That’s how he should be known,” he said.
The ribbon-cutting ceremony on Saturday, Feb. 19, marked the inception of the Dr. Edward Bancroft Henderson Memorial Fund, which supports the launch of a scholarship endowment, the renaming of a sports complex and the establishment of a permanent on-campus memorial for Henderson.
Rodney Trapp, who serves as vice president for advancement at UDC, described it as part of the Equity Imperative Strategic Plan. He said the newly-named athletic facility will raise UDC’s profile as a tourist destination while the endowment will allow more economically-disadvantaged youth to participate in summer camps, sharpen their basketball skills and become familiar with STEM concepts.
These plans, Trapp said, fall in line with the essence of Henderson’s legacy.
“Our theme is ‘Pathways to Possible’ and it talks about all of the possibilities in one’s career and life trajectory. That theme is very consistent with the life work of Dr. E.B. Henderson,” Trapp told The Informer.
“[There’s that] connection in honoring Dr. Henderson in the current strategic plan. It’s really looking at and giving homage to a pioneer who has been an unsung hero and individual of importance within the community in the field of sports and basketball,” he said.