I had an amazing day attending the Octavius V. Catto Sculpture unveiling at City Hall in Philadelphia. On Oct. 26, we will continue the discussion about Catto on campus with a screening of a documentary about his life and an engaging panel discussion with some of the people behind the film and also the campaign to get the monument erected.
About Octavius V. Catto
Octavius Valentine Catto (February 22, 1839 – October 10, 1871), was a Civil War veteran, an educator and principal at the Institute for Colored Youth (which later became Cheyney University), a voting rights advocate and civil rights pioneer, and an early Negro Leagues baseball player/manager/organizer (although he protested fiercely to have the sport integrated). Assassinated in October of 1871 on South Street while organizing African-American voter turnout soon after the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment allowing African-American men the vote, Catto’s inspiring life was tragically cut short at the young age of 32.
While the landscape for placing public memorials for African-Americans in the city of Philadelphia had gotten a boost in the 1980’s and 1990’s thanks to a vigorous effort by Charles Blockson of the Temple University Blockson Library and Archival Collection, who spearheaded the effort to get dozens of Pennsylvania State Markers installed throughout the city, this is the first statue dedicated to an African-American individual to be placed in a public space in the city.
The Catto Statue, along with its corresponding sculptures of a segmented trolley car (symbolic for his successful attempt to desegregate the city’s trolley car system) and a symbolic ballot box emblazoned with the right-to-vote wording of the XV Amendment, is quite an impressive statement that will at once change the aesthetic landscape of the central corridor of Philadelphia and also educate all who come across it about the significance of Octavius Catto’s life. What a fitting tribute to a once-forgotten hero in these uncertain times.
Join us at DelVal Thursday, Oct. 26 to Learn More About Catto’s Life
On Thursday, Oct. 26, from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m., Delaware Valley University will be hosting a screening of the History Making Production company’s short documentary on Catto’s life in the Life Sciences Building. After the screening, there will be an engaging panel discussion on the making of the film, the Catto memorial, and public memorials in general.
Some of the Catto panelists include:
- Amy Cohen, historian, and director of education at History Making Productions
- Nathaniel Popkin, novelist, historian, producer, and screenwriter at History Making Productions
- Mariam Williams, screenwriter for the Catto film, arts educator, public historian
- Carol Lawrence, board chair of the Octavius V. Catto Memorial Fund.
Written by Dr. Craig Stutman, Assistant Professor of History and Policy Studies.