Edwin Bancroft "Ed" Henderson (born November 28, 1884 in Washington, DC; died February 3, 1977, in Tuskegee, Alabama) widely recognized as the "Father of Black Basketball," introduced basketball in Washington, D.C. in 1904 to African Americans on a wide scale, organized basis.
From 1907 through the 1950s, Henderson played and coached basketball, and taught and influenced perhaps hundreds of thousands of Washington area schoolchildren in basketball, including many later luminaries such as Duke Ellington and Charles Drew. In 1973, Henderson was elected Honorary President of the North American Society for Sport History. In 1974, along with Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson, Jesse Owens, Bill Russell and Althea Gibson, he became an inaugural member of the Black Athletes Hall of Fame.
Given that African American players dominate the game of basketball today, it would seem difficult to overstate the importance of the role that Henderson played in basketball history.
Henderson’s involvement in basketball – and in the advocacy of organized physical fitness and recreation overall – was overarching. He was a tireless in organizing the first all-black educational athletic association, the Inter-Scholastic Athletic Association of the Middle Atlantic States, which served the high schools and colleges in the DC area. He also helped establish the Eastern Board of Officials, a training center that, for decades was the go-to pool for highly qualified African American referees. For 25 years, Henderson was also the appointed head of the Department of Physical Education for the segregated Washington, D.C. school system.
In the fall of 1910, Henderson organized the Public Schools Athletic League for the Black schools of Washington, D.C. and in 1929, the South Atlantic High School Association was formed to include all the Black high schools of Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Annapolis, MD, Wilmington, DE., and Manassas, VA.
Henderson organized the 12th Street YMCA team and was its captain. In 1910 he led the Y team to a victory over the vaunted Alpha Physical Culture Club team in New York's storied Manhattan Casino. The 12th Streeters were crowned Colored Basketball World's Champions for 1910. (For more details of the game, see Bob Kuska's description of that game.)
From 1910 through 1913, Henderson co-edited the Spalding's Official Handbook on the Inter-Scholastic Athletic Association of Middle Atlantic States, which not only covered activities of the association, but also athletic activities by high schools, colleges, and amateur clubs in Philadelphia, New Jersey, and New York, which became a valuable resource for later basketball historians.
His life is the topic of numerous noteworthy books, papers and proceedings, as well as a doctoral dissertation. Henderson himself was the author of several seminal books about African American participation in sports, including his landmark work, The Negro In Sports (Washington, DC: Associated Publishers, Inc., 1939), as well as a regular contributor in the National Negro Press Association with pioneering magazines such as The Messenger and Crisis.
Henderson died in 1977, at age 93.
Beyond athletics, Henderson and his wife, Mary Ellen, also an educator, were also determined and successful civil rights activists, fighting against housing discrimination in Falls Church, Virginia, and against segregated sports facilities in the greater Washington, D.C. area. Where at one time Falls Church tried to prevent the Hendersons from owning land in certain parts of town because of their race, now the local recreation center bears a plaque dedicated to Edwin Henderson’s legacy, and, in 2005, a local middle school was named after Henderson's wife.
- Beginnings of Basketball in Black Washington, DC
- Account of the 1910 Alpha Physical Culture Club game