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F.C. Civil Rights Icon Honored in D.C.

Edwin Bancroft “E.B.” Henderson is known as the “Grandfather of Black Basketball” as he brought the little known sport back to the DMV area. Henderson was a resident of Falls Church for many years and still has family here today. (Photo: Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation)

In the context of Black History Month last Saturday, the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) renamed its sports complex after the late Falls Church civil rights icon Dr. Edwin Bancroft “E.B” Henderson, also known as the “Grandfather of Black Basketball.” Henderson’s grandson, Edwin Henderson and his wife Nikki are currently prominent community activists in the City of Falls Church.


A ceremony at the school campus in D.C. was held that included the announcement of a $200,000 gift from the Ted Leonsis Foundation. Leonsis owns the Washington Wizards professional basketball team.


E.B. Henderson, who also founded the first rural chapter of the NAACP in Falls Church over 100 years ago, brought basketball to Washington D.C. in the early 1990s while the game was still in its infancy.


A few years later, he worked to organize an All-Black Amateur Athletic Association. By 1910, along with the other Black men he had taught the game to, Henderson and the Washington 12th Streeters were taking on teams from all over the east coast.


Along with his wife, Mary Ellen Henderson, a prominent educator after whom Falls Church’s middle school is named, the two lived on South Maple Street in the city of Falls Church.


Along with his passion for sports and education, Henderson was also a prolific writer, authoring many letters to the editor to newspapers in the D.C. area and helped to organize the Fairfax County branch of the NAACP, of which he also served as president.


Edwin Henderson, founder of Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation and Falls Church activist, is the grandson of E.B. Henderson and is currently writing a book about his grandfather, which is anticipated to be published later this year.


“Dr. Edwin Bancroft Henderson is recognized as the grandfather of Black basketball,” said his grandson. “In other words, he introduced the sport to African Americans on a wide scale, organized basis. He formed groups. He built the infrastructure that made leagues and organizations to train referees so that African Americans could participate in organized athletics. He cultivated the game of basketball at its infancy. In 1904, basketball was largely an unknown quantity, an unknown sport to African Americans.”


Henderson graduated at the top of his class from Miner Normal School, which has now become UDC, where his legacy will be preserved through the renaming of the sports complex, the creation of a memorial fund to launch a scholarship endowment and a statue of E.B. Henderson in a mission to keep his story and legacy alive.


“In 2018, UDC inducted E.B. Henderson into their hall of fame because he was an alumnus of what is today known as the University of the District of Columbia,” explained Henderson. “I have to say that the Board of Trustees championed the idea of renaming the sports complex in honor of my grandfather. They came to me about 18 months ago with this idea so naturally I embraced it. They have been very gracious and forthcoming with the idea.”


Additionally, the Washington Wizards are holding an essay contest for middle and high school students in the DMV area. Students can submit a 250 word essay about a community leader who has had a positive impact on their lives.


Winners will receive a scholarship and be invited to a chalk talk with Henderson highlighting the original letters written by E.B. Henderson to newspapers on the topics of civil rights and race relations.


The contest ends March 17. More details can be found at nba.com/wizards/wizards-honor-dr-martin-luther-king-jr.