Story+ Project

From Stephen to C.B.: Tobacco, Race & Duke Men's Basketball


Story+ 2022 | From Stephen to C.B.: Tobacco, Race & Duke Men's Basketball

This project seeks to examine and re-narrate the historical relationship of tobacco, race, and the Duke University Men’s Basketball program. This project will begin by looking specifically at the subjectivities of Stephen Slade, the enslaved Black man who discovered the “Brightleaf” curing method of tobacco, and Claudius Claiborne, Duke University’s first Black Men’s Basketball player. This project seeks to look at the growth of the tobacco industry over time, its relation to the development of intercollegiate basketball in Durham, including the racial segregation and the desegregation of Duke Men’s Basketball. Our team will critically explore how one enslaved Black man's stolen ingenuity traveled over time, leading to Claudius Claiborne becoming the university’s first Black player. Through archival research, textual analysis, and oral history, our team will interrogate both individuals' public representation and narration and look beneath the surface to unearth the underlying stories and issues omitted in the current master narrative. To explore these lines of inquiry, our team will engage questions including: How have Stephen Slade and Claudius Claiborne’s stories been represented in public? What "work" are these narratives doing within society? Who benefits from these narratives? What do these narratives reveal, and what do they hide? How is Black intelligence represented within these narratives? Students will use the collected data and public storytelling to create a counter-story in a public history exhibit (curatorial plan) and website, which offers a different truth.

Project Sponsor(s): 

Javier Wallace, PhD, Race and Sport Postdoctoral Associate, Duke African & African American Studies

Graduate Mentor(s): 

Damilare Bello, PhD candidate, Duke English


Sophia Hanani and Hanrui Huang

This summer, we spent six weeks investigating the lives, subjectivities, and connections of Stephen Slade and Dr. Claudius “C.B.” Claiborne, Duke’s first Black student-athlete and basketball player. Looking through the throughline of tobacco, we produced a website detailing their connections. Among the most significant relationships we unearthed through interviews with Dr. Claiborne, and site visits to the Duke Homestead were the communities formed during the segregation era. We learned about their integral connections to the growth of “Black basketball” and the intentional effort Black coaches and players used to eradicate Jim Crow policies from their lives. We exposed the silences in the narratives and the absence of public recognition of these important figures. Namely, we noticed the lack of any monument or general marker of CB Claiborne in Cameroon Indoor Stadium, the Duke Basketball Museum, or any other public campus area. Through our website, we demonstrated through write-ups and use of archival materials Dr. Claiborne’s life, activism on campus, and in larger communities, including his missing practice and games to participate in the Allen Building Takeover. We are hopeful this project will lead the university to recognize and memorialize Dr. Claiborne, which will serve the current and future Duke students and supporters. 
Image of Claudius B. Claiborne Duke University’s first Black Men’s Basketball player. From Duke Chronicle, 1967


  • Race
  • Sports
  • Civil Rights
  • Archives
  • Education
  • History