The Secret Game “Black Magic”

The Secret Game; On March 12, 1944 North Carolina Central and Duke Medical School teams played a secret game to see who was the best in Durham. The Eagles used their famed fast-break strategy created by McLendon, whining the game by a score of 88-44.

African American college teams were barred from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) during the Jim Crow era. Teams from Historically Black Colleges & Universities were not allowed to showcase their skills against their white counterparts. In 1944 in Durham, NC, at the local YMCA, one of the first integrated sporting events in the South was on the horizon. Black and White students from North Carolina Central University and Duke University met at a YMCA for a joint prayer meeting. A friendly challenge followed, leading to a game between the NCCU varsity team and Duke’s medical school team to determine the best team in Durham.

It was a match-up between two teams recognized as the best in Durham. Many believed that Duke’s medical school team was even better than the school’s varsity team, which had won the Southern Conference championship. The North Carolina Central team coached by John B. McLendon was coming off of an impressive season with a 19-1 record.

The game was scheduled for Sunday, March 12, 1944, when most of Durham’s citizens would attend church. Transporting the NCCU team to Duke’s campus would have been nearly impossible, so the teams arranged to play at NCCU. Duke players were driven to NCCU’s campus and rushed into the gymnasium undercover, after which Coach McLendon locked the doors. That day, in the gym, were only players, coaches, and a referee. A few students were able to watch through the gym window. The Eagles used their famed fast-break strategy created by McLendon, winning the game by a score of 88-44.

Following the game, the two teams integrated rosters playing a follow-up game of shirts and skins. At the conclusion of the game, the Duke players went back to the dorms of the Central players to have refreshments and hang out.

The police nor major newspapers outlets were aware of the game. A sole reporter from the Carolina Times (An African American Weekly Publication) was mindful of the game but promised not to publish a story to ensure the safety of McClendon and his players. The “secret game” between NCCU and Duke players was not known to the public for many years until Duke graduate Scott Ellsworth wrote a New York Times article detailing the secret game. The game is the first known integrated college basketball game in the South. “Black Magic,” a 2008 ESPN documentary on college basketball at historically black colleges, included the story of the secret game. The game has become symbolic of how resistance to Jim Crow occurred outside the traditional civil rights movement.

Although a non-traditional protest, the game was symbolic of the resistance to Jim Crow. The historic game was played right here in Durham, North Carolina.

Duke Magazine (accessed August 3, 2010); New York Times, March 31, 1996;  “The Secret Game, Remembered” (accessed August 3, 2010)

North Carolina History Project

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *