The Eastern Board of Officials (EBO) was founded in 1905 by the late Edwin Bancroft Henderson, to combat stereotyping, train a new generation of athletic officials, guarantee higher wages, improve working conditions, and secure assignments for colleges, high schools, and youth athletic leagues.
E. B. Henderson, a Harvard University graduate, civil rights activist, physical educator, and chronicler of African American athletes was concerned that members of the black community frequently chose white officials for sporting events because of their perceived ability to better maintain control and deliver a sense of confidence, more than black officials. Mr. Henderson began the formation of the organization by hosting small discussion groups that met prior to football games with G.C. Wilkinson, the first Assistant Superintendent of schools in Washington, D.C. Most of the early members were directors and/or teachers of physical education, athletics, and recreation throughout the District of Columbia.
The EBO was initially composed of officiating groups in Virginia, North Carolina, and Washington, DC. EBO began officiating a wide range of sports for the black school system in Washington, DC, local colleges, several high schools in Virginia, and later for athletic teams at youth correctional centers and at Gallaudet University. Through the years, EBO has officiated a wide variety of sports, to include football, basketball, baseball, softball, boxing, handball, swimming, track and field, tennis, volleyball, and other sports.
A.K. Savoy, Superintendent of the District of Columbia's black school system was EBO's first president. He led the organization for a number of years before being succeeded by E. B. Henderson, who served as president for fifteen consecutive years. Other Presidents have included Les Coles, Leo Miles, Adam Scott, William Wilson, Frank O. Price, Roosevelt McIlwain, Jr. and currently, Felton Page.
The EBO became a certified 501(c) (3) non-profit organization in Washington, DC in April of 1987 and continues to provide sports officiating services, to the Districts Public Schools, Department of Recreation, and area colleges. The EBO has groomed, trained, and developed officials for football, basketball, baseball, and other sports. Currently, EBO members remain committed to excellence in officiating as part of its continued legacy that began a century ago and is proud of its distinction as the oldest African American officiating association in the country.
EBO continued to make history, as it became the oldest predominately African American sports officiating organization in the United States after most other black officiating organizations dissolved in the 1960s. EBO members also made history as they broke racial and gender barriers inside and outside of the organization. R. Melvin Jackson was the rules interpreter in 1968 and the first black official on the National Federation Rules Committee. Leo Miles was the first EBO member to become an NFL official in 1969 and the first black official to work a Super Bowl in 1974. Miles was also the first black Assistant Supervisor of Officials. Johnny Grier became the first black NFL referee in 1988 and Larry Upson was the first African American Director of Officiating Operations in the NFL. In 1979, EBO became the first organization to certify a woman, Joanne Burgess, to officiate in the National High School Federation. In 1999, Debra Tresvant became EBO's first female Assistant Commissioner and in 2003, Toni Morgan became the first female referee for a varsity high school football game in the District of Columbia and Prince Georges County.