Wednesday, Aug 12, 2020 | Last Update : 12:55 PM IST

140th Day Of Lockdown

Maharashtra53560136843518306 Tamil Nadu3086492506805159 Andhra Pradesh2445491547492203 Karnataka1886111055993398 Delhi1461341316574131 Uttar Pradesh126722767212120 West Bengal98459671202059 Bihar8274154139450 Telangana8075157586637 Gujarat71064542382652 Assam5883842326145 Rajasthan5249738235789 Odisha4592731785321 Haryana4163534781483 Madhya Pradesh3902529020996 Kerala3433121832109 Jammu and Kashmir2489717003472 Punjab2390315319586 Jharkhand185168998177 Chhatisgarh12148880996 Uttarakhand96326134125 Goa871259575 Tripura6161417641 Puducherry5382320187 Manipur3752204411 Himachal Pradesh3371218114 Nagaland30119738 Arunachal Pradesh223115923 Chandigarh1595100425 Meghalaya11154986 Sikkim9105101 Mizoram6203230
  Newsmakers   26 Sep 2017  Philadelphia to honour black activist with City Hall statue

Philadelphia to honour black activist with City Hall statue

Published : Sep 26, 2017, 11:36 am IST
Updated : Sep 26, 2017, 11:36 am IST

Octavius Valentine Catto's contributions to American democracy rival some of the country's most celebrated patriots.

Octavius Valentine Catto's contributions to American democracy rival some of the country's most celebrated patriots. (Photo: AP)
 Octavius Valentine Catto's contributions to American democracy rival some of the country's most celebrated patriots. (Photo: AP)

A century before the fight to end Jim Crow segregation laws, Octavius Valentine Catto was leading a civil rights movement in Philadelphia.

The 19th-century educator and activist fought for a better education for black students, led efforts to desegregate the city's street cars and pushed for equal voting rights — all before he was killed at age 32. His contributions to American democracy rival some of the country's most celebrated patriots, yet his story has remained largely unknown.


"We know more about Rocky — who's not even a real person — than we know about Octavius, which says a lot," said Democratic Mayor Jim Kenney, who first learned of Catto's story as a young city councilman. "Of course, we all know about Benjamin Franklin and all the things that he did, because we're taught about him. There were scores of these people throughout history, and it's important to understand that there were people other than the Founding Fathers who contributed greatly to this country."

On Tuesday, the city will laud Catto's legacy with a statue in the shadow of City Hall — the first such named tribute for an African-American in a public space in Philadelphia. The honour comes amid a national conversation about Confederate memorials, and about who is an American hero and how and where the country chooses to celebrate them.


Philadelphia is in the midst of its own debate on the issue. Catto's statue stands just several hundred yards from a sculpture of former Mayor Frank Rizzo, whose complicated racial legacy has led some to argue that his likeness should be removed from city property. After racial violence erupted last month in Charlottesville, Virginia, where protesters gathered to oppose the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, debate over Rizzo's fate have resurfaced.

Catto was born free on February 22, 1839, in Charleston, South Carolina, and moved to Philadelphia as a child. In 1858, he graduated as valedictorian from what would become Cheyney University, the nation's oldest historically black college, and became an English and math teacher at his alma mater.


By his early 20s, Catto already was an influential black Philadelphian, serving in the Pennsylvania National Guard during the Civil War and recruiting blacks to serve in the Army. He also was a pioneering athlete, helping to establish Philadelphia as a major hub of the Negro Leagues and pushing to integrate baseball decades before Jackie Robinson would break the sport's color barrier.

Catto's work advocating for voting rights would ultimately bring about his untimely death. He worked to get Pennsylvania to ratify the 15th Amendment guaranteeing the right to vote for black men. On October 10, 1871 — the first Election Day blacks were allowed to vote — Catto was shot to death on his doorstep by Irish-American ward bosses.


Kenney, who has Irish-American roots, has championed the memorial since his days on City Council. It will be the first public sculpture at City Hall since a statue of city father John Wanamaker was installed in 1923.

Catto's biographer Murray Dubin said he was embarrassed and angry to have only learned about the activist in his 40s.

"This guy was extraordinary," Dubin said. "I went to high school here. I went to college here. It's this hole of history that no one every filled in for me. ... To have this visual symbol of an African-American civil rights hero in this city, we've never had anything like this. It couldn't be more important."


Tags: philadephia, octavius valentine catto, black activist, jim crowe, america