Talk explores UT’s path to integration

Shamoyita DasGupta

Former UT housemother Almetris Duren provided a source of critical support for many of the first black students at UT, said two speakers at a talk Thursday.

Students, faculty and members of the community learned about Duren’s impact in the 1940s and 1950s at the third talk for the 25th Annual Heman Sweatt Symposium on Civil Rights. The talk featured Louise Iscoe, who co-authored “Overcoming: A History of Black Integration at the University of Texas” with Duren and Kevin Foster, assistant professor in African and African diaspora studies.

They discussed the racial climate of the University following the 1950 Sweatt v. Painter decision, which granted black students admission to UT. At the time, Austin was still a segregated city, and Duren played an important role for those students.

“The heroes I admire are the everyday folk, who, every once in a while, we especially notice,” Foster said. “They pretty much do what they do because that is what they were called to do. They are heroic and beautiful and most often invisible.”

Before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, black students who were granted admission to the University following the Sweatt v. Painter decision — which resulted in integration at UT — were not allowed to share the same dormitories as white students.

Black male students were sent to live in old barracks, while female students were sent to live in the Eliza Dee Dorm near East Avenue and 12th Street. Duren was sent to work as housemother and became an important presence for black students at the time.

“She immediately became Mama Duren,” Iscoe said.

Though black students were not allowed to hold meetings on or attend other social events on campus, Duren allowed them to have parties and meetings at the dormitory and gave them more freedom than they were granted on campus, Iscoe said.

Duren’s rapport with the students meant that she influenced many to persevere through their educations at UT, Iscoe said.

“She was responsible for keeping more students from dropping out than anybody on campus, just because she wouldn’t let them,” Iscoe said.

The book was printed in 1979 and was based on a compilation of newspaper and magazine clippings Duren made regarding blacks at UT.

“She thought it was very important that these articles become the basis of a book that would record the integration of blacks,” Iscoe said. “She was scared that if there was no way for people to access it, then the history would be forgotten.”

Though the book is no longer in print, an updated version that expands on the content in the first book will be available soon.
Attendees thought the talk will help UT continue to change, said UT alumnus Brandelyn Franks.

“I think that it’s important for people to know their pasts,” Franks said. “People need to know about what issues occurred here on campus, how we’ve moved forward and what still needs to be done.”Former UT housemother Almetris Duren provided a source of critical support for many of the first black students at UT, said two speakers at a talk Thursday.