Peggy Cooper Cafritz was born on April 7, 1947, in Mobile, Alabama, to the well-known and respected Cooper family. Her upbringing was decidedly Catholic. Her father, a well-respected community leader, and her mother, an astounding beauty, worked to provide the correct upbringing for Peggy and her siblings. After graduating from a private Catholic high school, Cafritz attended George Washington University, where in 1968 she earned an undergraduate degree in political science and, in 1971, a law degree.

Cafritz became involved with education and the arts in the Washington, D.C. area when, as a law student, she founded the Duke Ellington School of the Arts. Initially a summer arts workshop for minority children, the program was accepted into the D.C. public school system in 1974. Since then, she has continued to serve the school and its nonprofit fundraising affiliate, the Ellington Fund, in numerous positions. Cafritz served on the executive committee of the D.C. Board of Higher Education from 1972 to 1976, which implemented the merger of Federal City College and Washington Teachers College into the University of the District of Columbia (UDC). From 1979 to 1987, she chaired the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and in 1993 President Bill Clinton appointed her vice chairperson of the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.

Cafritz was the youngest person ever selected to serve as a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars. She worked as a programming executive for Post-Newsweek and a documentary producer for WTOP-TV from 1974 to 1977, earning both Emmy and Peabody Awards for her documentary work. Her work as an arts reviewer on WETA-TV's Around Town has also earned her an Emmy. Cafritz worked to develop a dramatic literary series for the Community for Public Broadcasting and the Public Broadcasting Corporation from 1977 to 1979 as executive director of the Minority Cultural Project, a joint venture between Harry Belafonte and WQED/Pittsburgh.

In November 2000, on a platform stressing the importance of academics, athletics and the arts, Cafritz won election as president of the D.C. Board of Education. Her cousin is former Secretary of Labor, Alexis M. Herman.


Learn more about Peggy Cooper Cafritz and the Duke Ellington School

Read selected writings from Peggy Cooper Cafritz

Creative Citizen
by Peggy Cooper Cafritz
Pew Fellowships in the Arts, 1995 Awards Speech

When we think of creative people, many of us tend to imagine a great master, painting in the bucolic solitude of a mountaintop studio, and when we think of active citizens, we tend to visualize a community activist distributing pamphlets on the street. When I speak of an artist, I mean anyone who engages others in creativity.

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Educated American
by Peggy Cooper Cafritz
from Harper’s Magazine’s symposium at the National Endowment for the Humanities

In the African-American community, there were a number of brilliant teachers, people like Jean Toomer. They taught because of segregation, and that began to die out in the early to mid-1960s, but in every city and every town, the most brilliant people were often teachers.
There was a limited Golden Age in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Teachers in black, segregated schools in the South basically came together and committed themselves to educating a populace that could compete twice as hard. We see that in the tremendous numbers of people who have come out of the South into positions of leadership.

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