Claude Johnson is a historian, writer, and founder of the Black Fives Foundation, a 501(c)3 public charity whose mission is to research, preserve, showcase, and teach the pre-NBA history of African-American basketball while honoring its pioneers and their descendants. The Black Fives Foundation Archives contains the world’s leading collection of historical artifacts from that period, known as the Black Fives Era.
He was born in Vienna, Austria — his father is African American, from the South Side of Chicago, and his mother was German, from the Römerstadt section of Frankfurt am Main — and lived in the Republic of the Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) before moving to the USA with his parents at age six.
During a 20-year career in corporate America, Claude held management and exec positions at IBM, American Express, NBA Properties, Nike, Phat Farm, and Benetton Sportsystem. He has a BS in Civil Engineering and Economics from Carnegie Mellon University and an MS in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University.
Claude is working on a narrative nonfiction book about the pioneering history of early 20th-century African American basketball teams, players, and contributors, with Abrams Press. He wrote the first chapter in "City/Game: Basketball In New York," the companion book (2020) to the Museum of the City of New York exhibition with the same name, by Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., entitled "Manhattan Takes Brooklyn: NYC's First Black Fives Matchup." Previously, he contributed a chapter entitled "What If Sweetwater Clifton's Pass Hadn't Gone Awry?," in the book "Upon Further Review: The Greatest What-Ifs In Sports History," by Mike Pesca (2018), a compilation of stories by an all-star list of sportswriters. Publishers Weekly praised his piece as "one of the best" chapters in the book.
Claude's work with the Foundation has been featured by numerous media outlets including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Sports Illustrated, Slate, Fox Sports, SI for Kids, the History Channel, NPR, the BBC, MTV, ESPN, NBA TV, and Turner Broadcasting. He is also a contributing writer for ESPN/TheUndefeated.
The former two-term trustee of the Greenwich Public Library has three scholar-athlete sons. He and his family live in Greenwich, Connecticut.
Awards and Recognition
- New York Knicks' Sweetwater Clifton City Spirit Award for Outstanding Community Service, 2018
- Harlem Week Rucker Park Pro Legends “Each One Teach One” Community Service Award, 2013
- Mayoral Proclamation: February 10th Named "Black Fives Day" for the City of New York, 2010
- Brooklyn Nets' Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things Award, 2010
Press and Media Mentions
- “There are heroes among us who believe in fighting for, preserving and spreading the gospel of black history. Claude Johnson is one such hero.” – Moke Hamilton, The Athletic (2019)
- "That’s how Johnson ended up in front of the Thunder players with a basketball, pair of shoes and pair of knee pads, all from an era of basketball before the NBA became racially integrated." – Maddie Lee, The Oklahoman (2019)
- "Worked with the great @ClaudeJohnson for years on many projects-no one has done more to ensure that not just the complete history of African-Americans in basketball is documented, but that black pioneers predating the NBA get their due in the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame." (2019) – David Aldridge, Editor In Chief, The Athletic
- Black Fives Foundation Executive Director Claude Johnson talks with the Thunder about the history of African-American basketball. (2019) (VIDEO) – NBA TV
- “Mr. Johnson’s mission is akin to the work that has been done to preserve the history of baseball’s Negro leagues. But his task might be harder.” – The New York Times (2014)
- "Most people have heard of the Negro Leagues in baseball and of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in the late 1940s — but relatively few people have heard of the Black Fives, the African-American basketball teams that played up until the NBA was integrated in 1950." (2014) – NPR
- "Claude Johnson never intended to dedicate his life to the history of basketball's early segregated leagues." (2014) – The Wall Street Journal
- "Known as the "black fives" for the number of starting players, these teams came to define an era." (2014) (VIDEO) – British Broadcasting Company (BBC News)