By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Mann Center for the Performing Arts today announced plans for an elaborate, months-long festival, starting next month, that will celebrate the life of a Philadelphia civil rights pioneer.

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Born in the 19th century, Octavius Catto was a black educator, sportsman, community organizer, and tireless advocate for equality.   He was killed in South Philadelphia on the frontlines of the struggle, fighting for voter rights on Election Day, 1871.

Today, details for the “Philadelphia Freedom Festival” — taking place at various Philadelphia locations through next July — were unveiled at the Union League, on the 85th anniversary of the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Nolan Williams, artistic director for the Philadelphia Freedom Festival, says the festival will feature nine major events including school workshops, concerts, panel discussions, and an awards luncheon, all honoring aspects of Octavius Catto’s life.

“He was a person that brought folks together, so we are trying to encapsulate that with the festival,” says Williams.

The signature event, called “Sing Freedom Sing,” will be July 19th at the Mann Center.

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“It’s going to include an amazing concert with the Philadelphia Orchestra and a 300-voice community choir,” Williams tells KYW Newsradio.  “It’s going to feature a commissioned work by American jazz composer and piano virtuoso Uri Caine.”

Project director Rhoda Blount says the festival will include something for everyone.

“We wanted to involve all ages,” she said today.   “We want to talk about racism and getting along with each other and bullying, so we have a rap session called ‘Voices of Our Children.’   We have rap artists coming in talking about what their lyrics mean.”

Another highlight of the festival includes the “Taste of Freedom” awards luncheon during Women’s History Month (March), which will honor several women in Philadelphia who have excelled in their profession and contributed to the community.  The honorees include veteran CBS-3 broadcaster Trudy Haynes and Joan Myers Brown, founder of Philadanco.

Some of the festival events are free. For more information, go to

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