By: University of the District of Columbia
UDC’s sports legacy was on full display Saturday, June 24, as the UDC community gathered for an unveiling ceremony of a statue honoring alumnus Dr. Edwin Bancroft Henderson, known as the “Grandfather of Black Basketball.” The life-size statue was erected in front of the Dr. Edwin Bancroft Henderson Sports Complex on UDC’s Van Ness campus, which was renamed to honor Henderson in February 2022.
The statue—which sits on markings representing a basketball court— was created by Brian Hanlon, founder of Hanlon Sculpture Studio in New Jersey. Hanlon is recognized for sculptures of notable African-American figures, including Harriett Tubman and Georgetown Basketball Coach John R. Thompson, Jr.
The decision to honor Henderson was championed early on by Board of Trustees Alumni Members Barrington D. Scott and Anntoinette White-Richardson with support from the Henderson family, the UDC Board of Trustees, UDC administration, and the UDC Foundation.
UDC Board of Trustees Chairman Christopher Bell, President Ronald Mason, Jr., and Director of Athletics Patricia Thomas welcomed guests to the unveiling.
Mason described Henderson as an “educator, scholar, author, athlete, coach, referee, organizer, civil rights activist.”
“In a normal world, this man could have been anything. He could have been president of the United States. He could have been a Fortune 500 CEO, but he got kicked out of the YMCA for being black, but like most black leaders, that didn’t stop him. He went on to do great things to help his people but also to plant the seeds for what became the modern National Basketball Association, but there’s more to the story,” he said.
“Like most black leaders, he wasn’t just fighting to help his people. He was actually fighting to help make the idea that we call America this unrealized vision, where all had inalienable rights and are created equal—e was fighting to make that idea a reality,” said Mason.
During the ceremony, Monumental Sports & Entertainment Chief Marketing Officer Hunter Lochmann surprised the audience by announcing a $20,000 gift from the Leonsis Foundation and Monumental Sports & Entertainment to the UDC Foundation’s Dr. E.B. Henderson Memorial Fund Campaign, allowing the fund to reach its $300,000 goal.
The UDC Foundation previously received a $200,000 lead gift from the Leonsis Foundation and Monumental Sports & Entertainment, the ownership group of the NBA’s Washington Wizards, WNBA’s Washington Mystics, NHL’s Washington Capitals, and Capital One Arena, among additional sports and entertainment holdings.
Henderson graduated in 1904 at the top of his class from a UDC predecessor institution with a degree in education. He later attended Harvard University’s Dudley Sargent School of Physical Training and became the first African American man to earn certification to teach physical education in the nation.
He was instrumental in forming the first rural branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He served two terms as president of the Virginia chapter of the NAACP and was on the board of directors of the D.C. branch. As a public school teacher in Washington, D.C., his students included notable figures such as musician Duke Ellington and medical pioneer Dr. Charles R. Drew.
Henderson co-authored the Spalding “Official Handbook of the Inter-Scholastic Athletic Association of Middle Atlantic States” from 1910-1913. Additionally, he wrote “The Negro in Sports” in 1939, revised in 1949, and “The Black Athlete” in 1968. His estimated number of published articles is more than 3,000.
He was inducted posthumously by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013. Dr. Henderson was inducted into UDC’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 2018.
“This statue is so important because it memorializes my grandfather,” said Edwin Henderson, II, grandson of the honoree. “You live in Washington, D.C., and you see statues everywhere. This is in line with that. It means that he will not be forgotten.”
The legacy of Dr. Henderson will live on through numerous projects that will continue in his name, including a book that his grandson is developing.
The unveiling event attracted UDC sports alumni, including former Harlem Globetrotter Charles “Choo” Smith, Jr. and Basketball Africa League President Amadou Gallo Fall.
Smith played for the world-renowned Original Harlem Globetrotters and was inducted into UDC’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 2015. He has created the Choo Smith Youth Empowerment, Inc. basketball camps and is building a school for at-risk students on 20 acres in Baltimore, Md.
“I was always told to honor those who have come before you. We honor Dr. E.B. Henderson for bringing basketball to African Americans in Washington, D.C.,” said Smith. “It touches my heart because, without him, there is no me. He brought a game that requires discipline, leadership, and, more importantly, it teaches self-control. He took the time to bring something back and give of himself. He shared his greatness.”
At the unveiling, Amadou Gallo Fall shared that Henderson inspires him as he breaks new ground using basketball to open doors of opportunity in Africa as Henderson did in the U.S.