Murdered On Election Day, But Not Before Octavius Catto Made His Mark On Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Tuesday was the last day to register to vote in the November Election.

To underscore the importance of the right to vote, the Community College of Philadelphia hosted a panel discussion on the legacy of a man who was murdered while fighting for his right at the ballot.

(credit: Cherri Gregg)

(credit: Cherri Gregg)

“Octavius Catto understood how sacred the ability to vote was,” says Murray Dubin, author of Tasting Freedom: Octavius V. Catto and the Battle for Equality in Civil War America.

The book chronicles the life of Catto and his fight for freedom for African Americans. He and co-author Daniel R. Biddle were panelists at the event in the Winnet Student Center, alongside Mayor Jim Kenney and CCP President, Dr. Guy Generals.

“Hopefully through his story- [students] will be inspired, says Generals, as he encouraged students to register to vote for this year’s election.”

Born in 1839, Catto was educated in the shadows of Philadelphia. Even though the city was one of largest communities of free Blacks in the North, there was no public education for people of color. Catto attended the Institute for Colored Youth (now Cheyney University) and grew to become a an astute intellectual, educator, gifted short stop and rose to national prominence in the battle for equal rights.

“He did so much,” says Dubin, “helping Pennsylvania and the nation pass the 15th Amendment and in helping desegregate street cars in Philadelphia.”

Catto lobbied Harrisburg, convincing White lawmakers that the Black vote was inevitable and passing the law would ensure the new voters would be loyal. Ironically, it was on Election Day, October 10, 1871 that Catto was shot in South Philadelphia as African American men attempted to exercise the voting rights then recently granted bu the 15th Amendment.

“Black and Whites knew Catto was for the Black vote,” says Dubin, “he was murdered because he was a Black leader.”

(credit: Cherri Gregg)

(credit: Cherri Gregg)

“The contributions of African Americans to American history were systematically ripped from the history books on purpose,” says Mayor Jim Kenney, who is very pro-Catto- and worked to erect a statute of him on city land. His effort and that of a coalition of others will be complete later this fall, when the memorial is unveiled on the Southwest apron of city hall.

“It’s finally acknowledging what this man did,” he says, “long overdue.”

Kenney says the statue will be city’s first, memorial to single Black historic figure on public land.

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