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SA Feature: The Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture

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Established in 1983, The Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture remains a safe, welcoming and supportive space that reflects the core values, culture, mission and perspectives of Duke’s Black community.

The Center was named to honor the great artist—Mary Lou Williams (b. Atlanta, GA, 8 May 1910; d. Durham, NC, 28 May, 1981). Williams taught at Duke University as an Artist-in-Residence from 1977 until her death. She is remembered by artists such as Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell as one whose musical and spiritual contributions were singular and profound.

The mission of the Mary Lou Williams Center is to foster a safe and affirming community that supports the diverse needs of Black-identified people. We believe…

  • Black is not a monolith.
  • Blackness is broad, deep, and diverse.
  • Our blackness should be celebrated, honored, and affirmed.
  • Blackness is beautiful.
  • The legacy of our ancestors should be exalted.
  • Black people deserve a space to be authentically and unapologetically liberated.

What does the Mary Lou mean to you?

“The Lou is important to me because it is truly a place where I can be myself. I love talking to and connecting with Black people of different background across the diaspora with different interests. The Lou is all of your interests, hobbies, etc are treated as valid.” – Destiny, T’25

“The Lou has been my home away from home since my first day of freshman year. It is the place where I feel most comfortable, loved, and supported on campus. I have made my most valuable relationships at the Lou because of the community and fellowship that the space fosters. I cannot imagine my life at Duke without it.” -Brianna, T’25

“The Lou is important to me because it provides me with a safe space to relax, chill, study and hangout with my fellow Black peers. It serves as an oasis from the PWI environment.” – Joe, T’26

Get to know the Lou’s staff, and how you can get involved: