Urban Heat Advisory sends our sincere condolences and prayers to the family and friends of DC’s beloved Peggy Cooper Cafritz (1947 – 2018). A true visionary and icon in the capital city – she was an activist, educator, philanthropist, and African American art collector. It was in 1974 that Cooper Cafritz founded the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, DC which became a model for magnet schools across the United States producing a wealth of renowned artists and performers. Her tireless efforts to champion education and arts in the community made her a prominent and well-respected DC icon.
Born in 1947 in Mobile, Alabama – Peggy Cooper Cafritz entered George Washington University in 1964 and formed a Black student union to challenge racial segregation on campus. In the summer of 1968 (soon after the riots) she created a pilot workshop in creative arts which would later form into the famed Duke Ellington School of the Arts. Ms. Cooper Cafritz would go on to serve as President of the DC School Board; as chairman emeritus of the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities; and as a member of the board at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
A devoted collector of African American art, Cafritz had amassed one of the largest collections of both African American and African art. Her hilltop mansion estate was a popular meeting place to link policymakers, cultural leaders and real estate developers. Unfortunately, after an accidental fire destroyed her estate in 2009, most of her extensive art collection was lost. For over five decades, Ms. Cooper Cafritz became a fixture of Washington’s educational, cultural and charitable firmament, as much a socialite as a social activist. A long-time champion of arts and education, who tirelessly tried to mend many of the city’s social and racial wounds; created one of the nation’s leading arts-intensive high schools; and capped her civic involvement with a six-year tenure as D.C. school board president. May your legacy live on through your works.