Edna Frazier-Cromwell wanted the dark brick row house in Northwest Washington the moment she saw it, but her husband figured he ought to drive her around the block first, to 14th Street between U and Wallach.
It was cherry blossom time in 1975, a warm spring day, Frazier-Cromwell said, recalling the incident recently. Around the corner on 14th Street, an ominous and grim-faced drug traffic crowd milled about. It was a sight that would have discouraged many prospective homebuyers.
"If we move here this is what we're going to have to contend with," said her husband Oliver. But she wanted the house.
"We'll just have to change all that," she said.
Although she admittedly was "a little naive" at the time, Edna Frazier-Cromwell, appointed earlier this month to represent Ward 1 on the D.C. school board, has seldom been given to negative thinking. Last December, she mailed out invitations to a "reception for the appointment of Edna Frazier-Cromwell to the Board of Education" nine days before the board officially posted the vacancy and began accepting applications.
Frazier-Cromwell, 47, will represent the ward located in the heart of Washington. It is the city's most economically and culturally diverse community, running from Howard University on the east to the expensive addresses of Connecticut Avenue on the west.
In between are the communities of Mount Pleasant and Adams-Morgan, the center of Washington's Latino population; 14th and U streets, the hub of much of the city's drug trade; and the lively crossroads of 18th Street and Columbia Road NW.
From the time she left Hightop, Tenn., a town so small it is left off most maps, to live with relatives and attend high school in Washington, Frazier-Cromwell has developed the kind of connections that open doors.
Her husband served as a special assistant to then-chairman of the City Council Arrington Dixon. When the 14th and U Streets Coalition, a neighborhood group that she organized to fight drug traffic, celebrated its first anniversary, the speakers' list read like Who's Who in D.C. Dixon was there, along with Mayor Marion Barry, then council member and now council chairman David A. Clarke, council member Betty Ann Kane, then housing director Robert L. Moore and deputy police chief Rodwell M. Catoe.
Supporters call her a determined woman whose background as a community activist and former advisory neighborhood commissioner will bring more sensitive representation of the diverse ward to the board.
Detractors see arrogance instead of confidence and add a charge that Frazier-Cromwell is less interested in education than in advancing her own political career.
Frazier-Cromwell has made no secret of the fact that she intends to run for the Ward 1 school board seat in November so that she can serve a full four-year term but denies she is looking toward any higher office.
"I intend to serve only on the Board of Education," she said recently. "There won't be anything more satisfying than trying to make this the best system in the country."
Many of the ideas and concerns that make up her current views on public school education were formed in the small Tennessee town and a proverbial one-room schoolhouse. She grew up under the guidance of a grandmother who ruled a large household with a stern hand. These concepts congealed with her experiences of living around the corner from one of the most depressed and crime-ridden sections of Ward 1 and the city.
"My grandmother told us there was no such word as can't. Her emphasis was on the development of the mind. Those first expectations were very important," Frazier-Cromwell said.
Frazier-Cromwell arrived in Washington alone in 1951 after a lengthy train ride from Tennessee.
Like other Southern black teen-agers she had come to live with relatives and attend Dunbar High School, then the premiere black high school in the District. It had a well-established reputation among Southern black families who did not want their children attending inferior segregated schools. After high school she attended Howard University and graduated with degrees in political science and economics.
After graduation, she worked in the legislative research service of the Library of Congress, eventually leaving to become director of library information at Congressional Quarterly. She has since resigned.
She became interested in schools when her community coalition found that an effect of its efforts to rid 14th and U streets of its drug crowd was to move the activity closer to Ward 1 schools, such as Cardozo High School.
"At the time we needed police patrols around the schools. Children had to walk past addicts to get to school. Drugs were being sold on school grounds," Frazier-Cromwell said. "I tried to concentrate on getting the school system to upgrade drug education. I'm still looking at that. I don't think it is as good as it could be."
Frazier-Cromwell said she wants to serve on the school board's buildings and grounds committee, to try to upgrade the physical condition of schools in her ward, and on the finance committee, which draws up the annual budget for the school system.
In the classroom, Frazier-Cromwell said she would like to see high school students given less freedom in their course selections and required to take more mandatory courses that emphasize writing and analytical skills.
She said she is a strong supporter of School Superintendent Floretta D. McKenzie, who believes "students have to feel that we expect them to learn and perform well. There's nothing worse than to see young people hanging around on the corner of 14th Street. We have to take responsibility for that and education is a crucial element."
Her 43-year-old husband now is a public affairs official at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Her stepson Michael recently graduated from Georgetown Day School, a private school in Northwest, and will attend the University of Virginia in the fall.