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Mon, 04.07.1947

Peggy Cooper Cafritz, Artisan and Philanthropist born

Peggy Cooper Cafritz

*Peggy Cooper Cafritz was born on this date in 1947. She was a Black art collector, educator, activist, philanthropist, and socialite.

Born Pearl Alice Cooper, Peggy Cafritz belonged to one of Mobile, Alabama's wealthiest black families. She later changed her name legally to her childhood nickname, "Peggy." The Cooper family gained their wealth through Peggy's father, Algernon Johnson Cooper Sr., who owned insurance and mortuary businesses across the state. Her father and mother, nee Gladys Mouton, were socially acquainted with jazz musician Duke Ellington.

Cooper traces her love of art back to her childhood, at least to the age of seven or eight when she was mesmerized by her parents' print of the painting Bottle and Fishes by Georges Braque, a French cubist. Cooper was raised Catholic in the segregated Jim Crow South. As a child, she attended a Catholic elementary school for black children.

At age 10, Cooper attended a Catholic summer camp in Michigan, where she was the only black camper. Her father sent her there knowingly, believing it was important for her to get to know the white world. There, she was the only camper put into a cabin alone, and she faced racist pranks, such as when other campers would tell her mother had to come to visit, only for Cooper to encounter another camper's black maid. When she called home crying, her father told her she needed to learn to deal with such racism because it would happen to her all her life. Cooper attended again the following year.

After her father tried to enroll his eldest son in a whites-only Jesuit high school, she attended the predominantly white Saint Mary's Academy in Indiana. In 1962, in her junior year of high school, she met the family of Dr. Roland Wesley and Dorothy Chamblee. Cooper credits the Chamblees for influencing "how I see formal art, but the beauty of my black body, mind, and soul." Her high school experience furthered her interest in art by providing her with many field trips to Chicago, where they attended plays, symphonies, and art exhibits.

In 1972, Cooper began work at Post-Newsweek stations, later renamed Graham Media Group, where she was an assistant to Harry Belafonte and M. Carl Holman, President of the National Urban Coalition. She also began making documentaries throughout the 1970s as a producer for the D.C. television station WTOP (now WUSA) and as an arts reviewer at D.C.'s PBS affiliate, WETA. For this work, she earned both Emmy and Peabody awards. In 1981, Cooper married multimillionaire real estate executive Conrad Cafritz, son of the real estate developer and philanthropist Morris Cafritz. She was Catholic, and he was Jewish. Together they had three children. They adopted two other children. The couple divorced in 1998.

Cafritz was a prominent figure in the Washington, D.C., social scene. Her brother, Algernon J. Cooper, Jr., served as the first black mayor of Prichard, Alabama. In Cafritz's 2018 book, she called her professional life "spectacularly lucky" but her emotional life "tumultuous, sometimes tortured." She wrote that the comfort she received from art is one of the things that drove her art collecting, along with its social and cultural impact.

Peggy Cooper Cafritz died in Washington, D.C., on February 18, 2018, from complications from pneumonia after a period of declining health.

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