By Gloria Dulan-Wilson
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)
- FROM "THE PHILADELPHIA NEGRO" by W.E.B.duBOIS - 1896
THE TRIAL OF FRANK KELLY, THE MURDERER OF OCTAVIUS CATTO
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.
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
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.
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.
NOW THAT YOU KNOW
WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?
Stay Blessed &