The Octavius V. Catto Statue and its importance to Philadelphia

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Article by Charlotte Thomas, GPA Ambassador

Octavius V. Catto, a 19th century African American civil rights advocate, has at last become clearly visible as a prominent figure in Philadelphia’s history. On Tuesday September 26, the city of Philadelphia recognized his importance and relevance today in the continued fight for equal rights for African Americans by errecting a statue of him on the south apron of City Hall. The statue is part of the memorial entitled “A Quest for Parity”, and it is notably the first monument on Philadelphia public property honoring African Americans.

               Catto pursued many passions when he was living in Philadelphia in the mid 19th century: he cofounded the Philadelphia Pythons, one of the first African American baseball teams; he graduated top of his class at the Institute for Colored Youth, now called Cheney University; and later accepted a teaching position at the Institute under a highly regarded black scholar.

While he was a contributing member of the community who exemplified positivity and resilience in the face of oppression, his implacable and fervent promotion of social justice for African Americans appears even more far-reaching and significant when looking at similar steps other activists in movements like Black Lives Matter take against racism today. His experience and subsequent message is applicable to the persistant discrimination against African Americans and other minorities that still exists.  Despite facing vehement hostility from white supremacists who ultimately shot and killed him to silence the black vote on Election day, Catto lived his life unswayed in a path to bring fairness and equality to all individuals in the United States.

He now stands forever firmly at the hub of Philadelphia to remind all why the city is the self-proclaimed “city of brotherly love”. In agreement with Catto’s values, the civic nickname asserts that each citizen will treat each other with, if not love, respect with the knowledge that each person merits equal treatment and opportunity.  The memorial sculpted by Branly Cadet includes Catto’s statue standing behind a voting booth, as well as pillars that symbolize trolley cars for Catto’s success in desegregating public transport.

The unveiling of the memorial to Catto on September 26th was a joyous celebration. The Octavius V. Catto Society, American Legion Post 405, Military Order Loyal Legion of the United States and 3rd Regiment, and the United States Colored Troops placed wreaths at the foot of the statue to commemorate Catto. Center City bustled with rejoicing on-lookers, at last giving fame to a man who provided the world with an invaluable example.

More information on Octavius Catto may be found by watching a recently released film by History Making Productions—Octavius V. Catto: A Legacy for the 21st Century. This is a follow up film to the already released Octavius Catto: Remembering a Forgotten Hero that had been created for middle and high school students. The production company has also prepared teaching guides for how to best incorporate this film and lessons on Octavius V. Catto into classroom experiences.  No doubt, Catto will prove to be one of the most important additions to classroom lectures in the coming years.

Watch the film "Octavius Catto: A Legacy for the 21st Century"

Teachers, the guide attached below is for you!

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