Before there was the Civil Rights Act, before there was Brown v. Board of Education, before there was Rosa Parks, there was Duke and N.C. Central basketball?

On March 12, 1944, medical students at Duke—many of whom had played in college at the varsity level either at Duke or other programs—faced off against the crosstown school that was then known as North Carolina College for Negroes.

Significantly, it was black players on one team vs. white players on the other, which would have made the game illegal at the time thanks to Jim Crow laws. But the game was organized secretly, played in the North Carolina College gym, and the Eagles defeated Duke 88-44.

The story stayed under wraps for more than half a century before New York Times reporter Scott Ellsworth broke the story in a 1996 feature while covering former North Carolina College head coach and current Hall of Famer, the late John McClendon.

In 2015, Ellsworth published a book that looked extensively into the game. At the time, the Eagles were actually quite a good team, having gone 19-1 that year. The game against the Duke students served as a sort of litmus test after they were unable to compete in either the NCAA tournament or the National Invitational Tournament because they were a black team.

Nowadays, you’ll find Duke and NCCU facing off almost every year in football, baseball and other sports. But don’t worry, you can read all about those in The Chronicle!