Dr. Edwin Bancroft Henderson, 93, a noted educator and civil rights leader in the Washington area for many years, died of cancer Thursday in Tuskegee, Ala.
The first black instructor of physical education in this country, he had been director of health and physical education for black schools in Washington from 1926 until he retired in 1954, the year that the Supreme Court ended school segregation.
Dr. Henderson, with his wife, the late Mary Ellen (Nellie) Henderson, also an educator and civic leader, had helped organize the NAACP chapter in Fairfax County. He went on to become president of the Virginia chapter of the NAACP.
They had lived in Falls Church from 1910 until 1965, when they moved to Tuskegee to live with a son, Dr. James H. M. Henderson, director of the Carver Research Foundation at Tuskegee Institute.
Mrs. Henderson died at the Wisconsin Avenue Nursing Home here on Feb. 4, 1976.
Dr. Henderson was never a star basketball, football or baseball player, but he was credited with doing as much for black athletes and athletics as many of the major black figures in the sports world.
In 1974, along with such notables as Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Wilt Chamberlain, Muhammad Ali and others, he was inducted into the National Black Sports Hall of Fame.
At that time, he was reminded that Black Sports magazine had cited him in 1972 as "one of the foremost black Americans of all time. Before the struggle for black equality became commonplace, Dr. Henderson was its champion."
"I never consciously did anything to be first. I just happened to be on the spot and lived in those days when few people were doing the things Iwas doing," he said then, adding:
"But sports was my vehicle. I always claimed sports ranked with music and the theater as a medium for recognition of the colored people, as we termed ourselves in my day. I think the most encouraging thing, living down here in Alabama, is to see how the black athlete has been integrated in the South."
Born in Southwest Washington, Dr. Henderson liked to recall that he had grown up with the late Al Jolson as a playmate. He graduated from Dunbar High School and was first in his class at Miner Teachers College.
He became the first black instructor of physical education in the country in 1904. At the time, there was no formal physical education in black schools. Instead, physical culture was taught one day a week by a white instructor.
For three summers, while school was not in session. Dr. Henderson studied physical education at Harvard University. He played a comparatively new sport - basketball - there.
When he got back to Washington, he organized the 12th Street YMCA team. They played teams here and in Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York, and claimed the national basketball championship in 1909 and 1910.
Dr. Henderson also orgnaized the first black high school and college track meets in the country.
In addition, he led a strong campaign to break the color line in the Amateur Athletic Union, which lowered the bar in 1910.
Besides teaching serving as a track, football and baseball official, writing for sports publications and reporting as a "stringer" for Washington newspapers on athletic events in the black community. Dr. Henderson earned a bachelor's degree from Howard University and a master's degree from Columbia University.
As head of the department of health, physical education and safety for black schools here, he instituted a number of innovations.
One was a highly successful program to reduce chronic truancy in the elementary schools by setting up classroom teams in football and basketball.
The teams were formed in each fifth and sixth-grade classroom, and every boy was either a player or a substitute. The teams represented their rooms and grade level rather than their schools.
The boys were able to participate in sports that had until then been limited to varsity competitions and many of them established a new feeling of belonging to their class and their school.
During his tenure with the District school system, Dr. Henderson received numerous honors.
In 1943, he was appointed to the National Council on Physical Fitness and the subcommittee on colleges and schools of the National Committee on Physical Fitness.
He was the first black man to receive a National Honor Fellowship in the American Association for Health, Physical Education and Recreation. Just before his retirement, he was presented the annual Howard University Alumni Achivement Award.
In 1973, he was named honorary president of the North American Society for Sports History. In 1939, he had published a book, "The Negro in Sports."
Dr. Henderson's civil rights activities ran concurrently with his education work and continued after he retired from his school position.
He was a prolific writer of pamphlets and "letter to the editor" protesting all forms of bias.
In the 1950s, he twice served as president of the Virginia chapter of the NAACP. He also served for many years on the board of directors of the D.C. branch of the NAACP. The Fairfax County branch of the NAACP, of which he had been a charter member, and the D.C. branch both had paid him special honors.
In 1960, he and his wife received a testimonial from the Fairfax County Council on Human Relations. He had been program chairman of the council and also a director of the Virginia Council on Human Relations.
For many years, Dr. Henderson and his wife had maintained a summer home at Highland Beach on Chesapeake Bay near Annapolis, where they were active in civic affairs.
In addition to Dr. James Henderson, he is survived by another son, Dr. Edwin M. Henderson, who is a dentist in Washington: a sister, Annie Briggs, of Falls Church: five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.