Civil Rights Tour: Recreation - Uline Arena and E.B. Henderson

Third and M Streets NE

Uline Arena became the largest venue in the city for sports events when it opened in 1941, but its whites-only policy in an increasingly black city, and in a neighborhood where many African Americans lived, made it a source of controversy and a site of protest. Although the renowned activist and performer Paul Robeson gave a concert here in the venue's opening year, the arena remained mostly off-limits to black Washingtonians. 

Pickets and boycotts targeting Uline were led by Dr. Edwin B. Henderson, the longtime director of health and physical education for DC's black schools and a leader of the NAACP's D.C. Branch. Henderson had learned to play basketball at Harvard, when the sport was first developing in the 1900s, and had founded the District's first black basketball league at True Reformers Hall in 1908. He had formed school teams throughout the city and had organized DC's black high school athletic conference as well as the first association of African American referees.   

Henderson's activism extended beyond the District's boundaries to Falls Church, Virginia, where he moved with his wife in 1913 and cofounded the NAACP's first rural branch. "Too many of our best young people move to Washington and their economic and cultural influence is lost to the community wherein they were brought up," Henderson later wrote of employment discrimination in Northern Virginia.

In some 3,000 letters to the editor that he penned during his lifetime, and as a columnist for the Afro-American, Henderson urged a boycott of the whites-only Washington Redskins in 1961 and praised the Police Boys Club's desegregation the following year.

Following Uline Arena's desegregation in 1948, Henderson helped organize an 80-person sit-in at the whites-only Child's Restaurant, across from Union Station. While unsuccessful, it paved the way for Mary Church Terrell's sit-ins and pickets at Thompson's Restaurant beginning in 1950.

The Uline Arena became the Washington Coliseum in 1959, the same year that Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammed appeared with Malcolm X before an overflow crowd there. The Uline Arena was listed in the National Register in 2007.

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