An interview with Octavius Catto biographers

Tamala Edwards sits down with Octavius Catto Biographers Daniel Biddle and Murray Dubin to discuss the life and legacy of this Philadelphia Civil Rights Hero.

Octavius V. Catto (1839 - 1871)

  • Octavius Catto was 19th century civil rights activist, scholar, athlete, and military officer during the Civil War
  • In Philadelphia by 1854, he became a student at the Institute for Colored Youth (now Cheyney University) and graduated as valedictorian in 1858. Catto furthered his studies in Washington, D.C., and upon his return, became an instructor of literature, mathematics, Greek, and Latin at the Institute for Colored Youth.
  • Catto founded the Banneker Literary Institute and the Pennsylvania Equal Rights League in 1864.
  • He was a member and helped to desegregate other civic, literary, and educational organizations, including the Philadelphia Library Company and the Franklin Institute.
  • He co-founded the Philadelphia Pythians, one of the first African-American baseball clubs. He was a co-manager and a player for the team.
  • Catto championed the desegregation of Philly's trolley system or 'streetcars' as they were known. After the Civil War, he started a Philadelphia protest movement that led to passage of the 1867 Pennsylvania law that prohibited racially segregated public transportation.
  • He was gunned down on South Street on Election Day in 1871 at the age of 32 when he attempted to vote following Pennsylvania's ratification of the 15th Amendment
  • The Octavius Catto Statue and Memorial outside City Hall is the First African American to be honored and featured in Philadelphia.

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