Human Relations Council seeks nominations for Elizabeth Duncan Koontz awards

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 12, 2023

SALISBURY — The Salisbury Human Relations Council is currently accepting nominations for the 2023 Elizabeth Duncan Koontz Humanitarian awards.

This award recognizes people and/or groups from the Salisbury-Rowan community who have made important contributions to improving human relations in the areas of education, employment, housing, industry, business, civic, church, advocacy and community service. Nominations will be accepted until Tuesday, Jan. 31.

To nominate a persona or group, please visit

Koontz was born and raised in Salisbury, graduating from Price High School as salutatorian in 1935. She graduated from Livingstone College in 1938, and earned her master’s degree from Atlanta University in 1941. She married fellow teacher Harry Koontz in 1947, and was a lifelong member of the National Education Association, becoming its first black president in 1968. During her tenure, she established the Human and Civil Rights Division of the NEA, which worked to address issues in minority education.

A special education teacher, Koontz was a member of the national Advisory Council of the Education of Disadvantaged children in 1965, during President Lyndon B. Johnson’s term and served as assistant secretary for the coordination of nutrition programs in the North Carolina Department of Human Resources. In 1969, she was appointed by Richard Nixon as the first African-American director of the United States Department of Labor Women’s Bureau. As the head of the Bureau, Koontz helped to share research and expertise with women abroad; address and eliminate discrimination against women and minorities in the workforce; identify discriminatory provisions in state statutes; support and fight for passage of the proposed Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).

Koontz was the assistant state school superintendent in North Carolina from 1975 to 1982, when she retired.