Duke, NC Central played secret basketball game 75 years ago during segregation era

Durham County News

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – North Carolina Central, winner of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament, takes on North Dakota State Wednesday night with a shot at making into the field for the NCAA Tournament.

The Eagles, should they advance past Wednesday, would meet cross-town rival Duke in the first round. There’s one game between the two that few saw or even heard about when it happened.

Sunday, March 12, 1944, there was The Secret Game. It was a match between North Carolina Central and Duke.  

“That was one of the quietest kept games ever to be played that no one knew about or talked about,” said Andre Vann, a historian at NCCU.  

Seventy-five years ago, during the Jim Crow era, African-Americans and white people could not play together. That’s why players, coaches, and even a reporter kept it a secret. 

“Durham was this model community of race-relations, but yet Durham was still like everywhere in the United States of America,” Vann said.

Vann said Duke players drove to NCCU and played at the school’s gym, currently the Student Services building.  

The game started around 11 a.m. that Sunday while most people, including police officers, were at church.

“There were conversations being held about who had the greatest team and that’s how the challenge kind of started,” Vann said.  

NCCU won the game. 

Now, the two teams could be meeting up again as part of the NCAA Tournament.  

“I think it’s probably one of the most electrifying moments, I think, in the history of not just this university and Duke University, but the city and this state,” Vann said.

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