Edwin Bancroft Henderson

Edwin Bancroft Henderson (November 24, 1883–February 3, 1977)

Basketball Pioneer and Civil Rights Activist
Fairfax County

Edwin Bancroft Henderson (November 24, 1883–February 3, 1977) earned his teaching certification from Miner Normal School (later the University of the District of Columbia). He furthered his studies at Howard University, Columbia University, and Harvard University, where he learned to play basketball while studying physical education. In 1907, he created a league for African-American basketball teams in Washington, D.C. Henderson pioneered physical education programs in Washington’s segregated public schools. He improved local sports facilities, organized the first track meets for African-American high schools and colleges, and created athletic associations to foster a culture of athletic competition in the black community. To raise awareness of talented African-American athletes, he published The Negro in Sports (1939; rev. ed. 1949).

Henderson lived in Fairfax County, where in 1915 he organized the Falls Church branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, its first rural chapter. He fought racial discrimination in local housing and law enforcement practices; battled segregation in transportation, schools, and other public facilities; and encouraged voter registration. During the 1950s, Henderson served as president of the NAACP Virginia state conference. While making basketball courts his classroom and NAACP work his vantage point for civil rights advocacy, Henderson was met with threatening letters and telephone calls, cross-burnings, and Ku Klux Klan visits. Throughout his life, thousands of Henderson’s letters to the editor on civil rights issues were published in the Washington Post.

Remembered as the “Father of Black Basketball,” Henderson was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013.