Saturday, January 19, 2013

World Typing Champion Cortez W. Peters Opens First African-American Business College in Washington

Founder, Cortez W. Peters Business School
Part 5 in a series commemorating the birth of Dr. King and the second inauguration of President Obama on January 21. 

The 1934 debut of the Cortez W. Peters Business School at 1308 U St., N.W. in Washington, D.C. was a pivotal moment in history. Not only was it the first Black-owned business school of its kind, it was the first vocational school in the nation’s capital to prepare African-Americans for business and civil service. Editor's Note: Subsequently I have learned about the existence of the Jennifer Business College, operated from 1920-1960 by W. Emile Jennifer at New Jersey Ave. and N St., N.W. No other data is available. If a follower of this blog can add more information, please post a comment.

A Baltimore branch of the Cortez W. Peters Business School opened in 1935, and a Chicago school in 1941. Together, the three schools trained an estimated 100,000 students over a period of 40 years. 

Founder Cortez W. Peters was a native of Baltimore who, at the age of 11, taught himself to type when his dad, a watchmaker, received a used typewriter in trade. Peters began using the “hunt and peck” system, then developed his own method for typing fast and accurately. He began entering local typing competitions and went on to become a world champion typist.

Cortez gives typing demonstration to high school students.
It was techniques he honed that became the heart of the curriculum at the Cortez W. Peters Business Schools. 

A 1940 newspaper ad for the school trumpeted the slogan, “Speed’s the Thing,” adding “the school will prepare and train students in commercial subjects including type- writing, shorthand, filing and all related subjects as well as preparation for Government Civil Service Examinations. . .Tuition reasonable and payable weekly. . .If you plan to purchase a typewriter, do not fail to see those on display at the Cortez W. Peters School. . .When you purchase a machine from us, you are taught how to use it.” 

Eventually the curriculum expanded to 22 subjects including salesmanship, business law and IBM card punch. 

Cortez donates typewriters to the war effort.
After Cortez died of a heart attack in 1964, his son, Cortez W. Peters, Jr. became president of the school. Like his dad, Peters, Jr. was a champion typist reaching speeds up to 130-140 wpm. He even set a record for typing in excess of 99 wpm while wearing mittens!

When the schools closed in the 1970s, Peters, Jr. began writing textbooks, consulting for other business schools and holding typing seminars throughout the country. 
Phyllis Rundell is a retired typing teacher who looks back with fond memories on a workshop she took with Peters in Colorado Springs, Colo. in the late 1980s. 

“He was an amazing man, six-feet tall with hands so huge that it was even more surprising that his fingers could fly like that,” she recalled. “He explained that the key to typing fast was maintaining perfect rhythm, and typing letter-by-letter. He said, ‘Spell every letter to yourself, until you get into the habit.’ Concentration was something he harped on all the time."

Peters, Jr. died on June 24, 1993 from a heart attack in Columbia, Mo. where he had been conducting a seminar on typing, shorthand and other clerical skills. 

As she continued in her career, Mrs. Rundell made frequent references to what she had learned from Peters, Jr. in her typing classes, inspiring a new generation of students.

Among those is Sean Kelly who was so moved by what he learned about the Peters men that he honored them with tributes on Find A Click here for the links: Cortez W. Peters, Sr. and Cortez W. Peters, Jr.


  1. I'm so delighted to have found some info about Cortez, Sr. I am a graduate of the Chicago campus probably 1949 or 1950 (can't remember what year, have lost my little leather-bound diploma). I was hoping to find a roster of graduates back then. Thank you so much.

  2. Thank you for remembering this African American leader. In these times when the myth is perpretratred that African Americans don't respect education and education is not a priority, here is an example of the best of the best. Here was a black man, that wasn't in sports or entertainment, that inspired hundreds of young people to pursue a career in the clerical/administrative support field. That was a solid field to build a middle class career and lifestyle for African Americans at that time. He created a school that was ahead of it's time.

  3. Not a native Washingtonian...from MD.

  4. Thank you for this information. We are celebrating my Aunt's 95th birthday, and with her quite sharp mind, she proudly recalls her training at the U St. Campus. Circa 1938. She also attributed her exceptional typing skills, which lead to 44 years of government service, to the training she received at the Cortez Peters Business School.

  5. Cortez W. Peters Jr. was a great help in my life. By graduating from CPBC, Washington, DC (1969), it helped me in my working career. I am now retired, but I wouldn't have been considered in the accountant field - if Dr. Peters had not gone to the personnel office on my behalf.

    From: MLJ: Kinston, NC