The University of the District of Columbia will rename its sports complex after the “grandfather of Black basketball,” Dr. Edwin B. Henderson.
The beginning of D.C.’s love affair with basketball started around 1904. That’s when Henderson, a physical education teacher at the time, traveled to Harvard University. While there, he fell in love with basketball, which was still in its infancy.
He then returned to D.C., ready to spread his knowledge of the new sport –– ushering the era of organized sports for African Americans.
If you have never heard the name E.B Henderson before, his grandson and namesake wants you to know you're not alone.
“It was a lost story,” said his grandson, Edwin B. Henderson II.
But Henderson’s story is one worth telling. In just a few short years, basketball's popularity blossomed.
In 1906, Henderson organized the first all-Black amateur athletic association. Their games were officiated by Black referees trained at the Eastern Board of Officials –– another of Henderson’s creations.
By 1910, Henderson had organized and was playing for the Washington 12 Streeters, taking on squads from Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York City. It's for these endeavors that Henderson earned his nickname, the “grandfather of Black basketball.”
“It puts in proper perspective the order of things with putting E.B Henderson at the beginning,” Henderson said.
But basketball wasn't Henderson's only legacy. He was an educator, writer and civil rights activist who used sports as a vehicle to expose the country’s unequal treatment of its Black citizens.
Henderson died in 1977, and over the next several decades the public had largely forgotten about him. His grandson is reviving his grandfather’s story in a new book due out later this year.
This weekend, Henderson’s alma mater will make his legacy permanent. The university will hold a naming ceremony on Saturday to launch the Dr. Edwin Bancroft Henderson Memorial Fund, according to a statement issued by the university.
The funds will go toward establishing a scholarship endowment, renaming the sports complex after Henderson and building a permanent statue honoring Henderson’s legacy, the statement said.
For university President Ronald Mason Jr. it’s an honor worthy of a man he considers the quintessential student athlete.
“As the public institution of higher learning in and for the nation’s capital, it's more than appropriate that we are the ones to honor him,” Mason said.
For Henderson’s grandson, this weekend’s celebration does not mark the final chapter in his grandfather’s life. He said it’s the start of introducing the “grandfather of Black basketball” to a wider audience.
"I know he’s worthy. I know what he did and I want the world to know what he did as well,” Henderson said.
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