Edwin Bancroft Henderson: Physical Educator, Civil Rights Activist, and Chronicler of African American Athletes

By Wiggins, David K. | Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, June 1999 | Go to article overview

Edwin Bancroft Henderson: Physical Educator, Civil Rights Activist, and Chronicler of African American Athletes


Wiggins, David K., Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport


Edwin Bancroft Henderson accomplished a great deal during his long and distinguished career. He introduced basketball to black children in Washington, D.C., and organized the Public School Athletic League in that city's segregated school system. He cofounded the Washington, D.C., Pigskin Club and established such important organizations as the Inter-Scholastic Athletic Association of Middle Atlantic States; Eastern Board of Officials; the Washington, D.C., Chapter of the American Association for Health, Physical Education, and Recreation (AAHPER); Colored Citizens Protection League of Falls Church, Virginia; and the Falls Church, Virginia, Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He was a member and frequent office holder in other professional organizations, including the Committee for Coordinating Recreational Plans in the District of Columbia, NAACP Committee on Recreation, Joint Army and Navy Committee on Recreation, National Council on Physical Fitness of the Federal Security Agency, Health and Recreation Committees of the Council of Social Agencies, AAHPER Facilities Committee, and the District of Columbia's 12th Street Branch of the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA).(1)

Throughout his life, Henderson fought both individually and in affiliation with many of the aforementioned organizations against various forms of racial discrimination. He waged war against Jim Crow transportation facilities in Virginia, led campaigns to eliminate segregated recreational and organized sports programs on both the local and regional levels, and fought to prohibit Southern states from excluding blacks from participation in local AAHPER chapters. Henderson was a dynamic public speaker and prolific writer. He wrote literally hundreds of "Letters to the Editor" on various topics to newspapers across the country and published numerous articles in well known professional journals. He wrote several book chapters and coedited the Official Handbook: Inter-Scholastic Athletic Association of Middle Atlantic States. Perhaps most importantly, Henderson wrote the first books on the history of African Americans in sport.(2)

Henderson's achievements did not go unrecognized, and organizations representing various professional interests honored him. He was given the YMCA Distinguished Service Award, received a Presidential Citation and Honor Award from AAHPER, selected as a Howard University Alumnus of the Year, appointed Honorary President of the North American Society for Sport History, and elected as a charter member of the Black Athletes Hall of Fame.(3) These honors do not obscure the fact that Henderson is not very well known today by physical educators, sport studies scholars, or even those with a special interest in African American athletes. The lack of scholarly accounts of Henderson's life has rendered his many accomplishments invisible to the same people who would benefit most from knowing of those accomplishments. This essay attempts to rectify that problem, recounting Henderson's life in the context of an American society characterized by rigid racial segregation and discrimination. The primary intent is to chart the major events in Henderson's life while providing insights into the role of sport, status of blacks in the physical education profession, and the pattern of racial discrimination in Washington, D.C., and the larger American society during the twentieth century.

Beginnings of a Life Devoted to Service and Uplifting of the Race

Edwin Bancroft Henderson was born on November 24, 1883, in Washington, D.C., one of four children of William and Louisa Henderson. His mother, Louisa, was the daughter of a white Virginia plantation owner and slave woman. His father, William, was the offspring of parents with white, black, and Powhatan Indian ancestry. Henderson was proud of his lineage, repeatedly recounting in interviews and published materials his family history. …

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