Almetris Marsh Duren

Mentor and Adviser, 1910-2001

For 25 years Almetris Marsh Duren was housemother, mentor, and adviser to black students at The University of Texas at Austin. She guided and advocated for them during the troubled early years of integration on campus.

Originally from Oklahoma, Almetris enrolled in Huston-Tillotson College on Austin’s East Side after her husband’s death. She earned a bachelor’s degree in 1950, then stayed on as a teacher of home economics. Meanwhile The University was experiencing a tidal change. The Supreme Court ruled in 1950 that the school must admit qualified black students. In 1956 the first black undergraduate freshmen arrived. Almetris Duren changed jobs to become housemother to the women of this group.

Because The University would not allow them to reside on campus, they settled into co-operative housing ten blocks away. Two years later their house was torn down to make way for the construction of I-35. The university moved them to a unit on campus where the communication building now stands. It did not take the students long to propose naming their co-op after Almetris. She provided inspiration and encouragement to stay in school. Black men as well as women took meals and attended events at the co-op, one of the few places where they could socialize comfortably.

In 1968 “Mama Duren” was promoted to student development specialist for minority affairs. The revered Almetris Co-op was torn down, but its housemother took up residence in Jester Center, where she could influence a wider circle of students. In 1974 a group of Jester residents habitually gathered in the lounge to sing around a piano. They approached Mama Duren about starting a gospel choir, and with her guidance the Innervisions of Blackness Choir was launched. Almetris also organized Project Info, The University’s first minority recruitment program. In 1979 she published her book about the history of black integration at The University of Texas at Austin—a slender, factual volume that is required reading for all orientation advisers. After she retired in 1981, four decades of UT Austin students continued to write to her and thank her for their success.

The co-op was also a dormitory, boarding house, social center, and even Sunday school for black students.