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Posted under: News Black History

Philadelphia's First Public Statue Honoring A Black Person To Be Unveiled This September

The statue will honor civil rights activist, Octavius Catto.

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There's been a lot of news this week about Confederate monuments: people tearing them down, and people trying to keep them from being torn down.

Now we'd like to share some news about a statue that hopefully everyone will be happy to see go up: a statue honoring an African American hero.

According to Penn Live, Octavius Catto will be honored with a statue outside of Philadelphia's city hall this September.

Catto's statue will be the first monument built to honor an African American erected on public land in Philly.

Just who was Octavius Catto? 

Let us tell you!

In Charleston, South Carolina on February 22, 1839, Octavius Valentine Catto was born a free black man.

Institute for Colored Youth
Institute for Colored Youth

Catto excelled at his studies, attending a school for black children in Philadelphia, the Institute for Colored Youth. He later led the institution.

Besides being an academic, Catto was a soldier. In 1863, at the height of the Civil War, he joined the army and enlisted as a volunteer in defense of the state of Pennsylvania as part of Frederick Douglass' black recruitment drive.

Beyond being an educator and a war hero, the city wants to celebrate its native son for his civil rights work.

During Catto's time, public transportation revolved around horse-drawn streetcars. These were segregated, and Catto wasn't there for it.

He staged a sit-in on the streetcars, refusing to move off of the car. The driver drove the car off of its track and unhitched its horses, unsure how else to get rid of Catto. That didn't work. Catto remained aboard; the other passengers and the driver left him there.

Catto also defended several black women who were forcibly ejected from the city's streetcars, and used a fine levied against his fiancée to drum up publicity for his cause.

Finally, in 1867, due in large part to Catto's pressure, the city desegregated its streetcars.

And he didn't stop there. 

Catto felt that everyone deserved the right to vote. 

And so he lobbied his elected officials hard to ratify the 15th Amendment. It took him years of effort, but Pennsylvania finally did in 1869.

As anyone who knows anything about grandfather clauses and one-drop rules, not everyone was happy that black men had the vote.

While we often think of ballot violence happening in the deep South, things were no different in Philadelphia.

Catto was determined that no threats of violence were going to keep his fellow black Philadelphians from voting.

And that determination cost him his life.

During the 1871 election, Catto was getting out the vote in his neighborhood when a group of armed white men, angry about black suffrage, gunned him down in the street.

A hero and a martyr, Catto hasn't been remembered in the same way as Crispus Attucks or Rosa Parks.

But Philadelphia plans to correct that.

The monument to Catto will proudly stand in a small area adjacent to City Hall. The masterpiece will be revealed at 11 a.m. on September 26, 2017.

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