ABOVE PHOTO: “Octavius” greets Mayor Michael Nutter at his announcement of the Catto memorial statue. In the background are (c) Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, and (2nd from right) Tracy Hines of the O.V. Catto Lodge #20 Esteemed Leading Knight and Gregory Freeman of O.V. Catto #20.
(Photo by Bill Z. Foster)
Mayor Nutter and Councilman James Kenney announced the City of Philadelphia’s commitment of $500,000 ($250,000 per year, over the course of two years) to support a memorial statue to Octavius Valentine Catto. The O. V. Catto Memorial Fund, a 501(c)3 corporation with a Board of Trustees, will support the design, fabrication and installation of a memorial on the southwest comer of Dilworth Plaza. The City’s commitment is aimed to spur additional support for the fundraising effort’s goal of $2 million.
“Each generation has a fiery advocate who pushes for equal rights and fair treatment for all. Octavius Valentine Catto was his generation’s advocate,” said Mayor Nutter. “I am honored to announce the City of Philadelphia’s support for a memorial to this great leader who made his home here in our City. All Philadelphians, and particularly the young, should understand that the rights we have today were only won through struggle and sacrifice.”
Councilman Jim Kenney, a longtime advocate for the Catto memorial, said, “Every Philadelphian should know about the contributions of our greatest citizens who sacrificed their own lives for the greater good. Octavius Catto was one of Philadelphia’s greatest citizens, yet he is rarely, if ever, mentioned in our city’s history. Today we remedy that omission by establishing a fitting memorial to honor Catto’s bravery and his fight for social justice in the face of unrelenting opposition.”
PHOTO: Actor Bob Brunch played Octavius Catto during the presentation at City Hall last week.
(Photo by Bill Z. Foster)
The Board of the O.V. Catto Memorial Fund is chaired by Carol Dark Lawrence (PNC Bank) and Vice-Chaired by Jim Straw and Councilman Jim Kenney. A fundraising committee is chaired by Robert Bogle and will include Frank Giordano (The Union League), Dr. Patrick Oates, and Bernard Smalley Sr., Esq. (Anapol, Schwartz, Weiss, Cohan, Smalley, PC).
Catto was norn on Feb. 22, 1839 in Charlestown, South Carolina to Sarah Isabella Cain and Rev. William T. Catto, a Presbyterian minister.
In 1844, the Reverend moved his family to Philadelphia. Octavius Catto attended the Institute for Colored Youth, which later become Cheyney University. He was valedictorian of his graduating class and shortly after, he became a teacher. In his 20’s, Catto was an active and outspoken African American leader who fought for the equality for African Americans. As an officer in the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Equal Rights League, Catto fought vigorously for the desegregation of Philadelphia’s mass transit system. On March 22, 1867, a bill that gave African Americans the right to ride inside the streetcars in Philadelphia was signed into law.
As founder, captain and second baseman for the Pythians, an African American baseball team, Catto would eventually become inducted into the Negro League Baseball Museum’s Hall of Fame. A Major in the First Division of the Pennsylvania National Guard, he helped open a recruiting station in 1863 and led a unit to Harrisburg to demand their right to fight in the Civil War.
They were turned down but shortly afterwards, with help from the Union League and prominent citizens, African American regiments were inducted. Catto held memberships in the 4th Ward Black Political Club, The Union League, The Library Company and The Franklin Institute. The fifteenth Amendment was passed in 1870 and a contentious election season ensued in the following year. On October 10, 1871 at the age of 32, Octavius Valentine Catto was shot to death in Philadelphia while on his way to vote. Six years later, Frank Kelly, a white Democratic party operative, was acquitted of the murder.