Role: Pioneering athlete, referee, basketball organizer, recreation worker, physical fitness advocate, and civil rights activist.
“Among blacks, basketball was at first considered a ‘sissy’ game, as was tennis in the rugged days of football.”
—Edwin Bancroft Henderson, 1939
In 1904, Edwin Bancroft Henderson, a black Harvard-educated gym teacher from Washington, D.C., introduced basketball to African Americans on a wide-scale organized basis for the first time.
He is considered the “Grandfather of Black Basketball.”
In 1910, Henderson organized and played for the Washington 12th Streeters, whose home court was at the Twelfth Street Colored YMCA. He then successfully petitioned nearby Howard University to adopt the 12 Streeters as its first varsity basketball team.
Beginning in 1910 through 1912, Henderson and fellow physical training advocate William A. Joiner published The Official Handbook of the Inter-scholastic Athletic Association of the Middle Atlantic States, which provided details about African American basketball organizations and activities during that period. The handbooks are a compilation of profiles and photographs solicited from black basketball programs along the East Coast, throughout the South, and as far west as Iowa.
“The Interscholastic Athletic Association Handbook had the distinction,” Henderson said in 1954, “of being the first book that was ever written by a black man which dealt specifically with black athletics in black schools.”
Henderson, previously an unsung pioneer, had many distinguished accomplishments in a lifelong career dedicated to the advancement of physical fitness and recreation among African American school children, as well as in the advocacy of civil rights causes.
Henderson was enshrined into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013, the first Black Fives Era pioneer to be inducted by the Pioneers of Early African American Basketball Committee.
For more information on E.B. Henderson, please see this article and others like it on this website.