Octavius Catto: Choosing Life and Blessing


During Black History Month, the Race & Privilege Committee invites you to reflect on how Spirit and Scripture have come alive in black history in our city. Each week, we will hear a short story of an important black leader in Philadelphia history, and how their life connects to the Scripture passages for that day. Saints have always been present in Philadelphia history, leading the struggle for racial justice. This week’s story is about O. V. Catto.

His full name is Octavius Valentine Catto which is especially appropriate today, two days before Valentine’s Day.

O. V. Catto is an example of a remarkable man who followed the instruction in our Old Testament scripture [Deuteronomy 30:15-20]. He chose life and blessing not only for himself but for his entire community. He lived at the time of the civil war and is responsible for desegregated the street cars in Philadelphia, organized the Pythians Base Ball Club, and advocated for voting rights. O. V. Catto worked to desegregate the horse-drawn streetcars in Philadelphia. Previously people of color had not been allowed to ride on the street cars. Catto successfully lobbied for a new state law that prohibited segregation on transit systems in Pennsylvania.

Another way that Catto chose life and blessing was by organizing the Pythians Base Ball Club where he coached and played shortstop. The Pythians had several very successful seasons and attempted to join the all-white National Association of Base Ball Players but were rebuffed. Catto also advocated for voting rights for African Americans. He worked hard for the passage of the 15th amendment which gave U.S. citizens the right to vote regardless race, color, or previous condition of servitude. After the amendment was ratified, he worked to get black men to come to the polls and vote. As a result he was shot and killed in Election Day violence on October 10, 1871. He was only 32 when he died.

Mayor Kenney recently announced a new statue in O.V. Catto’s honor at City Hall. The status on the southwest corner of City Hall is scheduled for completion later this year. The status will commemorate choices made for good and for blessing and remarkable impact O. V. Catto had on Philadelphia.

Anna Hoover

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