The Way Back: Mama Duren

In 1956, the first cohort of Black students, now known as The Precursors, enrolled at UT. While an ostensible sign of progress, the cohort’s experience on campus was often characterized by isolation and frustration. They encountered much suspicion and hostility, and student dorms and services remained segregated for the better part of the next decade. Into this void stepped Almetris “Mama” Duren, who ran UT’s first dorm for Black coeds out of a rickety but handsome home, a few blocks east of the state Capitol near 12th Street.

Under her leadership, the dorm became a sanctuary for those who lived there and those who came to eat, sing, and pray with the community Duren nurtured. “If I never see you again, remember I shall always think of the warmth and understanding that was so much a part of you,” one graduating student wrote to her in 1960. Indeed, Duren, who died in 2000, was instrumental in the lives of many Black students, exhorting them to stick it out at UT, despite the many obstacles they faced. Duren retired from UT in 1980. By then, she had helped pioneer new student services, minority recruitment drives, even a gospel choir. In 2007, Duren Residence Hall opened on Whitis Avenue, to commemorate the spirit she instilled and the community she cultivated.   

Photos courtesy of the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History


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