The City of Philadelphia has announced plans to honor Octavius Catto, an educator and civil rights activist who was murdered in 1871 during riots by Irish mobs who sought to prevent African Americans from voting.
Catto was a native of Charleston, South Carolina. His father was a former slave who purchased his freedom and became a Presbyterian minister. The family moved to Philadelphia in the 1850s. Catto graduated as the valedictorian of the Institute for Colored Youth, which today is Cheyney University of Pennsylvania. He later taught English literature, mathematics and classical languages at the institution.
When the Civil War broke out, Catto was instrumental in recruiting Black troops for the Union Army. After the war, he led the fight to desegregate horse-drawn street cars in Philadelphia and to defend African Americans’ right to vote.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, who is of Irish descent, has announced plans for a bronze sculpture of Catto outside of City Hall with a stainless steel ballot box on a table in front of him. The project is entitled “A Quest for Parity.” The project is expected to be completed next spring.
Mayor Kenney stated that “the statue will pay homage to Catto’s accomplishments and ensure his efforts to expand voting rights for African Americans will never be forgotten. It will also be the first statue on Philadelphia public property dedicated to a single African American.”