Elizabeth Duncan Koontz served as president of
the National Education Association (NEA) in 1968-69 and set as her theme, "A time
for Educational Statesmanship." She called on teachers "to make use of their united
power to bring about change." In her acceptance speech in Dallas, Texas, she further
emphasized "that educators ... men and women ... young and old ... black and white
... stand together."
Born in Salisbury, North Carolina, on June 3, 1919, to Samuel and Lean Duncan, Elizabeth Duncan attended the Salisbury public schools and Livingstone College. She received a Bachelor's degree in English and elementary education in 1938, and Master's degree in elementary education from Atlanta University in 1941, and did further study at both Columbia University and Indiana University. She pursued additional training in education for the mentally retarded at North Carolina Central University (NCCU). On November 26, 1947, she married Harry Lee Koontz.
Devoting her entire life to the field of education, Koontz taught in the following North Carolina schools: Harnett County Training School, 1938-40; Aggrey Memorial School, Landis, 1940-41; Fourteenth Street School, Winston-Salem, 1941-1945; Price High School, Salisbury, 1949-1965; and Price Junior-Senior High School, Salisbury, 1965-68.
Her involvement in teaching led her to become active in the local and state teachers' organizations for African-Americans and the North Carolina Teachers Association. Koontz served as president of the North Carolina Association of Classroom Teachers (NCACT) from 1959-1963. Under her leadership NCACT published its first edition of Guidelines for Local Associations of Classroom Teachers in 1961. Other accomplishments during her tenure included passage of a resolution against segregated accommodations at NEA-DCT (Department of Classroom Teachers) regional meetings of the Southeastern Region; the resolution was cosponsored by the Florida Teachers Association. Other firsts for this African-American woman included being the first North Carolina Teachers Association member appointed to the NEA Commission. Her participation at NEA-DCT meetings led to her appointment to the advisory committee by Margaret Stevenson, executive secretary of NEA-DCT.
In 1960, she was elected secretary of the NEA-DCT, a position she held for two years. Then, after serving one year as vice-president and one year as president-elect, Koontz served as president of NEA-DCT from 1965 to 1966. She represented 825,000 teachers nationwide. She was the first African-American to serve in each of these national offices.
In 1968, she was elected president of the NEA, another first for her and for African-Americans. As NEA president, she outlined a nine-point program for her tenure in which she called for a unified, secure, respected, informed, and socially aware profession; a profession that also ensured adequate income after retirement, protected against unjust attacks, had teacher-leaders, and was undivided by artificial differences.
A statesperson for education, Koontz was one of the sixteen Americans who visited the Soviet Union at the request of Saturday Review in 1964. She held membership in the North Carolina Council of Human Relations and the North Carolina Governor's Commission on the Status of Women, and in 1965 was a member of the President's Advisory Council on education of Disadvantaged Children.
During the presidential Administration of Richard M. Nixon, Koontz headed the Women's Bureau of the Department of Labor and served as a delegate to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in 1970. Her last career appointment was as assistant superintendent for the Department of Public Instruction. She retired from this position in 1982. Koontz not only served the educational system in North Carolina, but she also served the nation and the world. She received many awards, citations, honors, and honorary degrees that give testimony to the esteem and appreciation felt by those she served. Elizabeth Duncan Koontz died in 1989 of a heart attack.
Black Women in America - An Historical Encyclopedia
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