AFAS Honors the Memory of Professor Garrett Albert Duncan

“May Garrett rest well in the land of our ancestors. May Dean McLeod, Dr. Williams, and other ancestors receive him well. And may the AFAS family keep his legacy alive. “ - Dr. Mungai Mutonya, respected colleague and dear friend

Garrett Albert Duncan, associate professor of African & African American Studies and Education and renown researcher on race and educational theory, passed away on December 8, 2020. He was 59.


Garrett Duncan was born in Oakland, California on February 1, 1961 and raised in Hayward. Duncan received his undergraduate degree in biology from Cal Poly-Pomona and his PhD at Claremont McKenna Graduate School. In 1990, he was named as College of Education & Integrative Studies (CEIS) Distinguished Alumni for 1990. Before beginning his doctoral education, Duncan taught eight years of science classes in Pomona, California.  He also taught GED courses to incarcerated male teenagers at the Fred C. Nelles School for Boys, California Youth Authority. In 1990, he was named as College of Education & Integrative Studies (CEIS) Distinguished Alumni for 1990.


Duncan’s research explored issues of race, culture, education and society, with particular focus — through his “Schooling as a Moral Enterprise” project — on the education of Black students in urban and suburban schools. He published extensively on Black youth, identity, language and ethics, and frequently wrote and commented for national and international news media.


“Garrett’s coming to Washington University was a joint effort by both African and African-American Studies and Education that hugely benefited both units,” said Gerald Early, the Merle Kling Professor of Modern Letters and chair of African and African American studies. “His research, his teaching, and his community outreach were all immensely important for the development of AFAS.  He made us known and respected in circles that increased our stature. His ‘Black Adolescence’ course by itself was an enormous addition to our curriculum.”


“He was a big, assertive guy with high standards and great humor,” Early added. “I thought he was one of the best hires I ever helped to make.”


Duncan held courtesy appointments in American Culture Studies and Urban Studies, all in Arts & Sciences at Washington University.  Duncan came to the university as a post-doctoral fellow in African & African American Studies in 1996. In 1998, he was offered a tenure track position in African & African American Studies and Educational Studies.  Always a keen supporter of student development, Duncan served as a long time interviewer and friend of the John B. Ervin Scholars Program, a mentor in the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program, and an avid participant in the Undergraduate Admissions program for high school counselors. He was promoted to Associate Professor in 2004. He was only the second person with a joint appointment in African and African American Studies to rise through the assistant professor ranks to achieve tenure since AFAS was established in 1969.


During his tenure, Duncan also served as chair of graduate studies in Education and mentored many undergraduate and graduate students over his 24 years at Washington University. As director of African & African American Studies (2009-2012), he focused on expanding the undergraduate experience - teaching the intro and capstone courses, supporting student programming, and beginning an examination of the undergraduate curriculum.  Under his leadership, African & African American Studies supported community endeavors including the African Film Festival, the Booklovers Book Club, the oldest Black women’s book club in the United States, and The Black Rep.


He served on the executive board and as treasurer of the Association for Moral Education and as vice president for the American Educational Research Association’s Division G, which studies the social context of education. Other honors include the Chancellor’s Graduate Fellowship Mentoring Recognition Award and teaching awards from the university’s Association of Black Students, Women’s Panhellenic Association and ArtSci Council.


Over the years, he has taught foundational and capstone courses in both education and African American Studies.  He was particularly known and beloved by students for both his Politics of Education course as well as his Education of Black Children and Youth.   He worked extensively with Saint Louis Public Schools, organizing teacher workshops, including “Teaching American History.” He also worked extensively with teachers in St. Louis-area public schools.


Professor Duncan has either written for an array of journals and magazines and has appeared on national and international news programs. Garrett Duncan loved teaching, research, and students. He supported student programs and was very generous in supporting youth endeavors (from his students to children of friends and neighborhood youth).  One of his favorite initiatives was the Association of Black Students’ spring basketball tournament fundraiser for Saint Louis area schools.  In addition to teaching, he loved to share ideas over meals with cohorts of students in his courses.


He was a huge fan of baseball and the San Francisco Giants, football (a sport he played in high school), especially his San Francisco 49ers and the Golden State Warriors.  Duncan is survived by his sister, Callie Redden; and his nephews, Clifton and Clayton Duncan. He also leaves behind many good friends, including Wilmetta and Samba Diallo and former student, Jamal Sadrud-Din, his beloved Socrates as well as colleagues and former students.

To support Garrett Duncan’s dedication to youth and urban education, donations may be made to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Saint Louis in his memory (  


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