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Elizabeth Duncan Koontz, Notable Educator and Devoted Advocate for Children

The article below was published in the Heritage of Rowan County, North Carolina, and can be found in the Rowan County library in Salisbury. Also in Salisbury, there is an elementary school named in her honor.

Article by Harold O. Robinson

Elizabeth Duncan Koontz was born in Salisbury, North Carolina on June 3, 1919. She graduated from Livingstone College, A.B. 1938; and received the M.A. degree from Atlanta University in 1941.

Mrs. Koontz devoted most of her professional life to the field of classroom education, having served as a teacher in the public schools of Salisbury, NC from 1938-1965. In 1965 she became president of the 1.1 million-member National Education Association (NEA). A year later she was appointed Director of the Women’s Bureau in the Department of Labor, and in a related assignment named U.S. Delegate to the U.S. Commission of the Status of Women. Mrs. Koontz resigned as director in 1972. Prior to her being elected first black president of the NEA, Mrs. Koontz was for many years a special education teacher at the Price High School in Salisbury.
Early in Mrs. Koontz’s teaching career, she developed what became a lifelong interest in “supposedly mentally retarded” children whom she herself generally classified as “slow learners needing only patience and understanding…”

Mrs. Koontz was once leader of North Carolina’s all-black NEA affiliate, as well as the Association’s largest division, the 820,000 member Association of Classroom Teachers.

She received honorary degrees from several colleges and universities: Livingstone College, Atlanta University, Pacific University, Bryant College, Howard University, American University, Coppin State College, and eastern Michigan University.

She served as Assistant State School Superintendent from 1975-1982, when she retired. Her husband, a former math teacher, died in 1986. They had no children. Elizabeth Koontz died January 5, 1989.

By Harold O. Robinson from the Heritage of Rowan County, North Carolina