“Edwin B. Henderson set the tone and created the infrastructure for African American participation in athletics, by creating leagues and associations for black athletes and referees when no such thing previously existed.”
– Edwin B. Henderson II, 2008
Washington 12th Streeters (Twelfth Street Colored Y.M.C.A.), Howard University
Home: Falls Church, Va.
Edwin Bancroft Henderson first learned basketball in 1904 at Harvard University while attending a summer physical training class for gym teachers.
Upon returning to Washington, D.C., Henderson promptly introduced the game to black students in the segregated public school system there.
It was the first time African Americans had played basketball on a wide scale basis, earning Henderson distinction as the “Father of Black Basketball” and the District of Columbia as the “Birthplace of Black Basketball.”
Henderson was a fine basketball player. His leaping ability made him a natural center, the most crucial position in basketball back when each made basket was followed by a jump ball.
“In the beginning of the second half the Y.M.C.A. boys played with full steam on. Henderson shot four pretty goals.”
– The New York Age, 1909
And Henderson’s tactical mastery of the game — along with his extraordinary communication skills — made him an excellent coach, promoter, and organizer.
He later formed the first African American athletic conference, the Interscholastic Athletic Association (I.S.A.A.).
Through the I.S.A.A., Henderson organized and promoted intercity play between black basketball teams along the Mid-Atlantic coast, especially between New York and Washington, D.C.
He soon organized a basketball team for the local Twelfth Street Colored Y.M.C.A., which he then led to an undefeated season and the 1909-10 black national title.
A year later, seeking more fans, Henderson successfully petitioned nearby Howard University to adopt his 12th Streeter squad as its first varsity basketball team.
He then promptly coached that team to win the 1910-11 Colored Basketball World’s Championship title, again going undefeated.
During this time, Henderson also co-edited the Spalding Official Handbook for the I.S.A.A., which was published from 1910 to 1913.
The Spalding I.S.A.A. series gave first comprehensive account of black participation in all major sports and remains a rich source of early historical information about African Americans in basketball.
“Mr. Henderson’s book should eliminate much of the guess work upon which both sports writers and fans have been forced to rely in discussing the merits and records of our runners, jumpers, boxers, swimmers, basketball and football players and other stars.”
– The New York Amsterdam News, 1939
Incredibly, this is just the tip of the iceberg as far as Edwin B. Henderson’s accomplishments in life.
His contributions to the game of basketball are gaining attention.
Although consideration for Henderson’s enshrinement into the Basketball Hall of Fame is building in momentum, more publicity in support of his induction is still needed.
Please see these related articles for more on Edwin B. Henderson.