Edwin B. Henderson — a Black Fives Era pioneer who is known as the “Grandfather of Black Basketball” — has been elected into the Basketball Hall of Fame!
Black Fives Era pioneer Edwin Bancroft Henderson, the “Grandfather of Black Basketball,” was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame’s Class of 2013.
The announcement came yesterday.
Specifically, the HOF’s special Early African American Pioneers Committee directly-elected Henderson for enshrinement. This means he was selected to go straight into the Hall, without first having to become a Finalist, which would have required his nomination to have passed additional inspection, review, and voting. Henderson will be enshrined as a member of the Class of 2013.
Four others were also directly elected, by other special committees: Roger Brown was voted in by the American Basketball Association Committee, Oscar Schmidt by the International Committee, Richard “Richie” Guerin by the Veterans Committee, and Russ Granick by the Contributor Direct Election Committee.
“These five directly elected individuals have officially been elected into the Basketball Hall of Fame and will be a part of the Enshrinement Ceremonies in September,” according to the HOF announcement. The remainder of the Class of 2013 will be announced on Monday, April 8 in Atlanta prior to the final game of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship Tournament.
“This is huge and exciting,” said an enthusiastic Claude Johnson, executive director of the Black Fives Foundation.
Johnson says he was the first to suggest to the Henderson family that their ancestor, who was already widely known by scholars and others as a black basketball pioneer, a physical education advocate, and a civil rights activist, had the necessary qualifications to be considered as a candidate for enshrinement — as a contributor.
“That was back in 2003, in a Powerpoint presentation I made about E.B. Henderson at the Washington, DC Historical Society, which several Henderson family members attended,” says Johnson. “I was just putting two and two together, having taken a look at the Hall of Fame’s ‘contributor’ criteria and their processes, and realizing that although “E.B.” was a player too, he was definitely qualified and much more solid as a contributor.”
From there, the Hendersons — represented by Edwin B. Henderson II and Nikki Graves, his wife — initiated a passionate, years-long campaign that included amassing the necessary supporting materials, collecting reference letters, and filming video testimonials, followed by their official nomination packet in support of E.B. Henderson, first submitted to the Hall of Fame in 2005.
Henderson (top row, right) with some classmates from Harvard University’s Summer School of Arts and Sciences, where he learned basketball in 1904. (Harvard University)
E.B. Henderson was a teacher in the racially segregated Washington, DC public school system when, in 1904, he attended a five-week course in Physical Education at Harvard University’s Summer School of Arts and Sciences, where he learned how to be a gym instructor. He also learned the sport of basketball, at the Hemenway Gymnasium, which is still in use and stands adjacent to the famous Harvard Yard.
Those courses were taught by Dudley Allen Sargent, who in earlier years of the school had a prominent student named Luther Halsey Gulick. Years later, as superintendent of the physical education department at the YMCA Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts, Gulick gave the now-legendary assignment to come up with a new game for the winter months to new faculty member James Naismith. “It is fitting that Henderson links to Sargent, who links to Gulick, who links to Naismith, who is the namesake for the Hall of Fame,” observes Johnson.
Henderson recognized the potential in the game, so when he returned to Washington he began teaching basketball to African American schoolchildren there. It was the first introduction of the game to blacks on a wide scale organized basis. According to Henderson, though, “basketball was at first considered a ‘sissy’ game, as was tennis in the rugged days of football.” However, he stuck with his vision and achieved remarkable results.
“Henderson not only ‘turned on the lights in the gym,’ so to speak, for African Americans in basketball, but also made sure those lights stayed on,” Johnson says. “He needed to be included among the all time great basketball contributors, so this is a great step for basketball, for basketball fans, for historians, for Black History aficionados, and most of all, I am very happy for Ed and Nikki and the entire Henderson family.”
The rare first edition of Edwin Bancroft Henderson’s seminal book, “The Negro In Sports,” published in 1939, the year the New York Renaissance (aka “Harlem Rens”) won the inaugural World Championship of Pro Basketball. (Collection of Claude Johnson)
Johnson, who was critical of the Hall of Fame in the past, sees this as a significant turnaround and gives the organization high marks. “Look, everything takes time to evolve and grow and take shape, so I can appreciate the process and their hard work of the Hall,” he says. “These kinds of breakthroughs don’t come overnight, yet they kept at it, so they should be congratulated right now and we should all celebrate.”
The reason this is so important, according to Johnson, is that Edwin B. Henderson was the very first African American basketball pioneer. “There weren’t any others before him,” he says. “This could mean that the Early African American Pioneers Committee decided to go back to the very beginning in order to consider working its way forward from there, and that’s huge because it could mean they will next consider those deserving pioneers who came after Henderson, which are quite a few in number.”
That list includes Clarence “Fats” Jenkins, Cumberland Posey, Jr., Ora Mae Washington, Hudson Oliver, John Isaacs, Clarence Bell, Zack Clayton, and Will Anthony Madden, who included on a “most deserving” list posted on this website. “Those are just the pre-1950 pioneers,” explains Johnson, “Then there are the modern day qualifiers with strong credentials and backing, like Ben Jobe, John McClendon, and more.”
Going back to Henderson, whose direct-election puts him in the first wave of this year’s inductees, Johnson says, “It was typical of Henderson to be the first in his class.” His grandson, Edwin II, agrees. “In my eyes he always stood head and shoulders above other men,” he remembered in a 2007 article guest-written for this BlackFives.com.
Many voices helped make this possible, including that of NBA-Insider, TNT reporter, and NBA.com columnist David Aldridge, who wrote this on NBA.com in February 2011:
The great Claude Johnson, founder of blackfives.com, points out that while the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame made other news last week (see below), it also disclosed it would be forming an Early African-American Pioneers of the Game Committee, which can induct selectees into the Hall on its own, without the usual 75 percent of eligible Hall voters. The first enshrinee from that committee should be Edwin Henderson, who organzed black basketball teams in Washington, D.C. at the turn of the 20th century and became one of the first chroniclers of African-American achievement on the court (as Claude pointed out three years ago) ; Mr. Henderson’s family has been toiling in near-obscurity for years, trying to get influential basketball voices and Hall voters to recognize the incredible contributions he made to the game. Now is the time.
Congratulations to Edwin Bancroft Henderson! He is “unsung” no more.