UDC unveils statue honoring ‘Grandfather of Black Basketball’

WTOP's Dick Uliano reports on a new statue in D.C. that memorializes the grandfather of basketball.
UDC’s statue at its unveiling. (Courtesy Danard Grays)

A statue unveiled at the University of the District of Columbia on Saturday paid homage to a former student credited as the first person to introduce basketball to African Americans.

Edwin Bancroft Henderson’s statue was placed just outside the recently renamed Dr. E.B. Henderson Sports Complex at the school’s Van Ness campus. Both highlight Henderson’s roots in UDC and nearby Howard University, his pioneering of physical education programs in Washington’s segregated public schools throughout the early- and mid-1900s and his work to bring basketball to Black populations.

His grandson, E.B. Henderson II, spoke at the unveiling Saturday. He said his grandfather worked to bring the game of basketball from Harvard University to his community when he “recognized that it was uniquely adapted to people of the African American race.”

“He didn’t learn it just for himself. He learned it to spread to the generation after him and the generation after that,” Henderson said. “And he wanted to lay a foundation for spreading the game of basketball to African American youth.”

Alumni from the institution, including Basketball Africa League President Amadou Gallo Fall, said the elder Henderson’s work had resonated with them and shared how they hoped to continue his legacy.

“The idea of using sport as a tool — as a conduit to empower, to inspire youth — is what I have, over the years, come to realize was a calling … Something we could definitely use in Africa to make sure we change the narrative,” Fall said.

Henderson was commended by the university community for his historic work in race relations across the region, including as president of Virginia’s NAACP chapter, leadership in the organization’s D.C. chapter, authorship of Black athletics texts and more.

The university also highlighted his work as a local educator, teaching the likes of Duke Ellington and Dr. Charles R. Drew while working in the capital’s school system.

The ceremony was attended by the members of the community and the Henderson family, as well as representatives from Monumental Sports — who announced a $200,000 donation to the memorial fund in late February — and Founder and Chairman of Choo Smith Youth Empowerment, Inc. Charles “Choo” Smith, Jr.

The statue was sculpted by Brian Hanlon of Hanlon Sculpture Studio.

Ivy Lyons

Ivy Lyons is a digital journalist for WTOP.com. Since 2018, they have worked on Capitol Hill, at NBC News in Washington, and with WJLA in Washington.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up