Black Basketball’s Direct Link To Hemenway Gymnasium In Boston (Part II)

On June 20, 2008, in Community, Culture, Race, by Black Fives Foundation

In 1904, black school teacher Edwin B. Henderson showed up at Harvard University’s Summer School of Arts and Sciences to learn the game of basketball. The rest is history.

In 1904, Edwin B. Henderson showed up at Harvard University’s Summer School of Arts and Sciences to learn how to be a gym teacher.

Hemenway Gymnasium

The renovated court at Hemenway where Henderson learned basket-ball.

Hemenway Gymnasium exterior

Hemenway Gymnasium exterior.

The courses were still being taught by Dudley Allen Sargent, the leader of the physical fitness movement in America.

As I mentioned yesterday, basketball itself traces back to Sargent and to the Hemenway Gymnasium at Harvard.

So does “black basketball” … because of Henderson.

Henderson was one of only two black persons in the class of 114 students.

From the Summer School of Arts and Sciences Catalogue of Students in 1904:

Though these courses are designed especially for instructors engaged in teaching through the winter, and to supplement courses given during the school year, they are open also to all students and others seeking their personal improvement either by exercise or in learning how to look after their physical welfare.

The exercises are conducted in the Hemenway Gymnasium, on the adjoining grounds, and in the lecture halls of the University, under the direction of Dr. D. A. Sargent, who takes part in both the theoretical and practical instruction.

The curriculum:

Primary and Grammar School Exercises, Calisthenics and Light Gymnastics, including drills in Chest Weights, Wooden and Iron Dumb-bells, Facings and Marching in Military Drill, Free Developing Exercises, Elementary Fencing, Dancing Steps, and Swedish Free Exercises. Elementary Heavy Gymnastics, including four series of progressive exercises on Low and High Horizontal Bars, Floor Parallel and Suspended Parallel Bars, Vaulting Horse, Buck, Rings, and Mat. Gymnastic Games, Delsarte Exercises, and Voice Training, expert instruction in Swimming, Diving, and Basket-ball.

Henderson at Harvard

Henderson (right) with some Harvard summer classmates and Sargent (left).

Henderson instantly saw the potential of “basket-ball.”

He returned to Washington, D.C. after finishing the Harvard course and began promoting the game among African Americans. But brothers didn’t like it right away. According to Henderson, “basketball was at first considered a ‘sissy’ game, as was tennis in the rugged days of football.”

Not for long.

Eventually, Sargent came to believe that Gulick and Naismith had created a monster:

A positive menace to the continuance of basket ball as a sane and rational game is its tendency to become so rough, fast, and furious as to be highly injurious to the health and morals of both players and spectators. The hard floor, brick walls, restricted area, crowded room, vitiated air and close proximity of the excited partisans watching the game – all tend the develop an unnatural strain and tension to which our high-strung youth too quickly respond. Is it a wonder that exhausted nervous systems, overworked hearts, congested lungs, crippled limbs, and irritable tempers have frequently resulted from this forced and unnatural style of play?

But, wait a minute … is he describing basketball circa 1900 or the old Boston Garden?

3 Responses to “Black Basketball’s Direct Link To Hemenway Gymnasium In Boston (Part II)”

  1. Very interesting. As an avid baller, I love finding little gems like this. I didn’t know that b-ball was considered a “sissy” sport. Those days are long gone. Good stuff.

  2. [...] This is how the basket ball field looked in 1904, the year that African Americans were first introduced to the game on a wide scale basis by Edwin B. Henderson. [...]

  3. Claude says:

    Thanks Six Pack! I would have never found this spot if I weren’t up in Boston for that Game 6, and happened to be showing someone a quick tour of Harvard Square. The Hemenway is essentially right next to Harvard Yard.

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Quote of the Month

“The wonder-player of ten or even five years ago lives only in the memory of contemporary worshipers of his brief scintillating days in the limelight. His picture hung on the walls of his Alma Mater, his name on a cup, a book of clippings, and the record of his team connect him with the string of those gone to live only in reminiscences.”
– Edwin Bancroft Henderson, 1939

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