OCTAVIUS CATTO - BLACK HERO - Gets His Place in the Sun


By Gloria Dulan-Wilson 

Hello All:

This is my first blog after a life threatening illness sidelined me with a clot on my right lung - better known as a pulmonary embolism.  I am happy to say that I am on the mend.

That said, my first post is about the history that was made in Philadelphia, PA with the installation of the statue of OCTAVIUS VALENTINE CATTO, a heroic figure that predates a great many of our contemporary heroes and sheroes of the 20th and 21st century.

Thousands of Proud Philadelphians gathered outside City Hall, Tuesday, September 26 to commemorate the sacrifice and heroism of Octavius Catto, as the first statue of an African American was erected on the grounds of Philadelphia's City Hall.

This is another First among so many Firsts that Black Philadelphians have so much to be proud of  But that pride was not confined just to Black Philadelphians - Black people the world over received the news and rejoiced along with them.  The moment of pride was likewise not confined to Black people - a large number of white Philadelphians, well as Latino, Asian and other nationalities, were also on hand to celebrate the unveiling.  And while the rancor continues to roil over the repugnant personage of racist Rizzo, currently displayed on the steps of the Administration Building (15th and JFK), the establishment of Catto's statue on the grounds of City Hall is definitely a step in the right direction.

Thanks to Philadelphia Historians, Dr. Charles Blockson and Dr. Edward Robinson, Octavius Catto is not a stranger to many Black Philadelphians - especially those who received their education prior to the 80s.  
Even more important is the fact that the great  W.E.B. duBois wrote about Octavius Catto in his epoch making sociological analysis entitled "THE PHILADELPHIA NEGRO," which was penned in 1899, for University of Pennsylvania - in which he detailed the martyrdom of the great hero, and his importance and impact on Blacks (and white haters) during an era when he was working to ensure Black voting power in Philadelphia.
In in the interest of historical accuracy, I did screen shots of the passage and pasted it below for your edification (apologies for the issues with the layout - SMH)  

The Philadelphia Negro
Book by W. E. B. Du Bois Pub: 1899 Univ. of Pennsylvania Press - 520 Pages

FOUR REFERENCES TO OCTAVIUS CATTO IN W.E.B.duBOIS' Book, THE PHILADELPHIA NEGRO: PAGES 39-42; 95-7; 512 (INDEX) Show that duBois was definitely way ahead of the rest of us in the historical significance of this wonderful hero.  




Thirteen things you didn't know about OCTAVIUS CATTO: 

One of my Lincoln University classmates, Joe Reed, also forwarded this article to me 
that should add more texture to the life and legacy of Octavius Catto - the link is below:  


What is surprising is that the erection of the statue has been long in the making, well before the controversy surrounding 
those statues in the south and other regions that pay homage to such racists as Jefferson Davis, and other slave holders 
that have proliferated all over the southern region as a constant and hostile reminder of the bad old days of slavery and jim crow.  
Per Mayor Kenney, he personally became aware of Octavius Catto 40 years ago.  What's even more positive and remarkable 
is the fact that a plan had been in place - according to the mayor - for the erection of Catto's statue for more than 15 years. 
Simultaneously, petitions have been circulating for the removal of the statue of Frank Rizzo, spearheaded by ATAC and other 
entities - as an an affront to Black Philadelphians.   

Philadelphia has been the birthplace and incubator of Black heroes and geniuses throughout the decades.  It is fitting and 
proper that Octavius Catto be the first of many to come. 

This report from a classmate, and former deputy 
mayor of Philadelphia, Oliver Franklin. 
I think it adds great context to the momentous occasion:

"I was there yesterday for the unveiling. This is the brainchild of our present Mayor who 15 years a

The following was shared by Oliver Franklin, former classmate of mine at Lincoln University, who attended 
the unveiling  - it gives a great deal of texture to the event::  

"I was there yesterday for the unveiling. This is the brainchild of our present Mayor who 15 years a
go as a City Councilman  started the process: a Proclamation in honor of Catto, then a bill through 
City Council to endorse and support (partially fund ‎ a statue etc). The then Cultural Commissioner  
and a prominent white Philadelphia utilized the political momentum to mobilize a committee of prominent 
citizens. After her stint in office the Cultural Commissioner, a Black woman,  stayed on as co-chair 
of the OV Catto Committee. Two recently retired Philadelphia Inquirer reporters wrote an excellent 
and comprehensive  book Taste of Freedom, on Catto and late 19th century Philadelphia. An excellent
 read. Both of these writers are sports fans and found Catto through baseball!  The fact that it took 
15 years to raise the funds is a testament to the focus in the Black community, since most of the funds 
were raised there. My own fraternaty, Sigma Phi Pi contributed $15K which was matched 2:1 by the membership.
 VO Catto Masonic Lodge, the Civil War reenactment units, churches and other organizations contributed. 
It was a real community effort. So, yesterday showed the real diversity of Philly; lots of students, 
Hip Hoppers, church Ushers in White and nurses  uniforms ,community leaders, Links, Ques, Kappas, Alpha's
DELTAS etc and  the Catto Lodge in Capes; the Odd Fellows and Moorish Science folks  in Fezzes, 
Muslims in skull caps, ministers in clerical collars, a good group of white folks of all stripes, all saints 
and sinners and the Black reenactors, with their gun salutes  and various other military groups. The police 
who are trained to keep a respectful distance crossed the street to see the ceremony. The speeches were 
excellent, epecially Bee Chapman, an educator at the National Archives; if I can get it, I'll send it along.  
The  wreaths laying ceremony at the base of the statue was conducted by military, primarily Civil War groups.  
I had the honor as an Honorary Member of MOLLUS (Militray Order of the Loyal Legion of the US-membership 
is decendants of Union Officers) to participate in laying of the wreath;  Catto was also elected to an Honorary 
Membership in MOLLUS.‎ Most important, members of the Catto family had come in from all over the nation, 
and they were intelligent and extremely articulate. 

When the statue was unveiled a hush fell over the crowd‎, so dramatic is  the work. It was not lost on 
us that an Irish man assassinated  Catto, and an Irish councilman, now Mayor led the charge to bring 
him back. This is all against the backdrop  of the cultural issues  with Confederate  monuments and the 
oversized staue of Mayor Frank Rizzo, who brutalized   the Black community here, first as Police 
Commisoner, then as Mayor which  was erected five years after he died in the middle of a comeback 
campaign, as a Republican, to challenge W Wilson Goode, our first Black mayor. There's a lot of hostility 
to the work, where the defacement of the work has  accelerated.  I'm not in favor of smashing the statue 
but it should be moved to a more appropriate place. And the policy question  also loomed: how long should 
we wait before errecting staues/monuments to city father's on public land? I'm in favor of 146 years, with 
Catto as the benchmark. But, looking at the politicians and city father's at the event yesterday, I sincerely 
doubt if this view will prevail.Philadelphia is public sculpture  rich. Having the most of any city in the us 
And other than the memorial to colored soldiers and sailers (1921), this our first staue to a Black man. 
So, in the mist of these cultural wars and the 'recontextualizating' of Confererate moneuments, with the
 Martin Luther King staue in Atlanta last month, and yesterday....it was farily good for Black culture. 
Regretfully both men were cut down in their prime. Such is our  cross to bear.
‎Stay strong......."(OliverFranklin)

Mayor Jim Kenney stated: :  "This is a tremendous day for me personally and for the city of Philadelphia -- 
as I'm sure it is for all of you. It's a day I thought was never going to come. I am humbled to be your Mayor as we 
honor and recognize a great American hero -- a great African-American citizen of Philadelphia -- Octavius V. Catto. 
This memorial is the first of its kind to a Black American on public land in the city of Philadelphia.

 "It's been a fifteen year journey to get us here today. It started with our first meeting at the Union League that Carol 
and Jim and Debbie Mahler - my current Deputy Mayor -- organized. After that there were countless other meetings, 
fundraisers, receptions, meetings with the Arts Selection Committee -- as well as the artist -- the great, great Branly Cadet -- 
and God-only knows how many phone calls over the years.
While many people have been involved in this project - too many for me to individually name and thank today -- 
I must recognize and thank Carol, Jim and Debbie - because without all of their hard work and dedication -- this 
memorial would never have been built. It's been a true labor of love.
While it's worth reflecting on the passage of those 15 years - during which time America elected our first African American 
president --  
we must also reflect on the passage of the 146 years. Almost to the day on October 10, 1871 -- a young 32 year old Philadelphian 
was gunned down on South Street while urging other Black men to vote in the first federal election after enactment of the 15th Amendment 
-- guaranteeing them the right to vote.

A lot has happened during these 146 years -- a lot of good, but also a lot of not so good especially in terms of how some native-born 
minorities and newcomers were treated and continue to be treated in America.The American Experiment is a work in progress. Our 
greatest strength has always been our diversity. We have much more work to do in how we treat and view each other. Hopefully all 
of us can be inspired by the courage and determination of O. V. Catto -- who was willing to sacrifice his own life for liberty, for justice 
and equality for all Americans.

Octavius V. Catto is a true American hero - like many other unheralded, nameless Black American heroes - should be revered, 
honored and recognized. Their lives and accomplishments should be part of the daily curriculum in our schools -- not just during the 
shortest month of the year.

O. V. Catto's story is the story of a courageous, unsung, young American military hero -- who like countless other unknown and seldom 
recognized black Americans -- contributed so much to make America great.Today we recognize the greatness and the humanity of this 
great American hero - Octavius V. Catto. 

A Major in the Army during the Civil War, an intellectual, an educator, athlete, civil rights activist who desegregated trolley cars in Philadelphia 
in the mid-1860s - and a good neighbor who walked the streets of our great city, Catto is a legendary American figure whose young life and 
tremendous accomplishments were cut short. But finally he is being honored and publicly recognized today for generations to see, admire 
and be inspired by -- right here on the Southwest Apron of City Hall.
My hope is that some day, every child in Philadelphia -- and America -- will know as much about Octavius V. Catto as they do about 
George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Dr. Martin Luther King.
I want to take a moment to recognize the family of O. V. Catto and thank them for traveling so far to join us today.  The City of 
Philadelphia welcomes you - and shares in your pride.

And to Branly Cadet - the truly amazing artist. I know your mother and wife -- and many of your family have joined us here today. 
They must be beaming with pride -- and rightly so. I am in awe of your talent - and humbled by your humanity and ability to capture the 
essence of O. V. Catto and what he represented for his time - as well as the inspiration he provides all of us today as we confront a 
mean-spirited ugliness and intolerance emanating from our nation's capital -- that seeks to divide rather than unite us as one nation.

I want to thank each and every one of you for coming today and for being good citizens of this great city - and for helping make 
Philadelphia the greatest, most welcoming and diverse city in the world. Thank you."    -Statement by Hon. Jim Kenney Mayor City of 
Philadelphia  at the Dedication and Unveiling of the Octavius V. Catto Memorial, September 26, 2017 Southwest Apron of City Hall Philadelphia, PA

Branly Cadet, the sculptor who was commissioned to
do the Octavius Catto statue has a  remarkable body 
of work to his credit.
Image result for branly cadet
Sculptor Branly Cadet

Branly Cadet began studying sculpture at Cornell University. After 
graduating, he continued his studies in figurative art at the New York 
Academy of Art, The Arts Students League, and in France at the 
Vaugel Sculpture Studio and L'Ecole Albert Defois. He, soon after, 
won the prestigious James Wilbur Johnston National Figure Sculpture 
Competition and began teaching sculpture.Born in New York City, 
he is a descendant of Haitian metal artist Georges Liautaud, whose 
exploration of iconography has influenced Cadet's own work. Branly 
now divides his time between his residence in Oakland, California and 
New York City, where, along with creating his own art, he accepts small 
and large scale sculpture commissions.  

Octavius Valentine Catto Statue Unveiled
 From The Ramparts  by Junious Ricardo Stanton                                                                                     
Most Philadelphians are completely unaware of the significance of Octavius Valentine Catto 
in the history of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and the nation. Catto like so many people of 
African descent in the US was deliberately excluded from the history books and historiography 
of this city, state and nation.

Octavius Valentine Catto was born in Charleston South Carolina on 
February 22, 1839 to a free born Black mother Sarah Isabella Cain and William 
Catto an enslaved Black man who was a millwright by training. William Catto 
purchased his own freedom and due to his devotion as a Sunday School teacher 
was recruited to become one of the few Black ordained and licensed Presbyterian 
Ministers. He was originally groomed to be a missionary to Liberia, the US "colony"
 established in Africa by the American Colonization Society in 1821. (Do some 
research on the American Colonization Society, you will be surprised by what you 
find, who some of their most prominent members were  and their plans goals for 
free people of African descent in the US.)
The elder Catto was sent to Baltimore in preparation for departure to Liberia but 
the discovery of a letter he wrote caused the Presbyterian leadership to rethink 
the motives and loyalty of Catto. He was forced to flee and take his family to 
Philadelphia were he reacquainted with several men he knew in Charleston. 
Catto became an itinerant preacher alternating between the Presbyterian and 
the AME Church serving as pastor for several churches in the Northeast US.
Reverend Catto sent his son Octavius to the best schools available that would 
admit blacks. Young Catto excelled in school and eventually made a name for 
himself as an honor student, orator, intellectual, educator, baseball player and 
During the US War Between the States, Catto advocated for Blacks being allowed 
to enlist. He and several of his friends travelled to Harrisburg determined to enlist 
in the Union Army but they were turned down after being encouraged to petition 
for enlistment by several white Philadelphians.
Undaunted Octavius worked to support the Union effort by raising over eleven 
regiments of "Colored Troops" to fight. It was Blacks like Catto, Frederick Douglas, 
Henry Highland Garnett and Martin R. Delany who used the war as an opportunity 
to press for freedom, equality and later enfranchisement.
In addition to raising troops Octavius took on additional challenges to the existing 
socio-political order. Octavius became the first president of the  Institute For 
Colored Youth (the forerunner of Cheyney University) alumni association. He 
was a teacher and principal there.  ICY graduates sent more of its graduates to 
teach the enslaved and newly freed Blacks during and after the war than any 
other organization or institution. Catto and his Black friends actually wrote and 
lobbied for passage of the legislation that eventually desegregated the street car 
lines in Pennsylvania.
Catto was an active member of the historic St Thomas African Episcopal Church 
founded by Absalom Jones in 1792 in Philadelphia the first African-American 
Episcopal church in the US. Like Catto many prominent Black Philadelphians were 
members of St Thomas which from its beginnings was a hub of social uplift, 
community activism and an ardent supporter of the Underground Railroad during 
Catto also pressed for the right to vote. Black males were stripped of the right 
vote in Pennsylvania in 1848 and regaining the ballot was one of the goals Catto 
and his socially conscious agitator/activist colleagues sought to achieve.
During a heated mayoral contest in 1871 Catto was murdered in cold blood in 
broad daylight by Frank Kelly one of  many Irish ruffians and thugs who bedeviled 
and assaulted Blacks in Philadelphia. Assaults and mob riots against Blacks had 
been going on for decades. Kelly was apprehended but somehow escaped and fled 
the city. He was captured five years later, brought to trial in Philadelphia but 
acquitted of Catto's murder!
Most of Catto's exploits and accomplishments have been deliberately left out of 
history books. But now this travesty is being rectified. Recently there have been 
scholarly articles and books written about Catto and now a statue in his honor has 
been commissioned, sculpted, erected, unveiled and placed on the Southwest 
apron of  Philadelphia's City Hall. This statue will be the first statue ever erected 
of an African American on municipal property!
On Sunday September 24th the African Episcopal Church of St Thomas held a 
special service honoring Octavius V. Catto, part of their two hundred twenty-fifth 
anniversary. One of the special guest speakers was Mayor James Kenney. The 
celebration at St Thomas marked the beginning of several days of activity to 
promote the unveiling of Catto's statue. The Mayor explained how and why he 
because fascinated about Octavius Catto and why he initiated the drive to 
recognize him with a permanent statue when Kenney was a councilman. It's 
been a long time coming, it took almost fifteen years to raise the funds and 
secure a sculptor to complete the project.  Octavius Valentine Catto is finally 
getting his just due."

Philadelphians have a lot to be proud of, and a lot more to learn about the rich heritage 
that exists here - the installation of Octavius Catto in a place of honor 
is the beginning of renewed discovery and awareness of those who have 
paved the way.  



Stay Blessed & 
Gloria Dulan-Wilson 

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