OCTAVIUS CATTO CEREMONY
Saturday, February 25, at 10 a.m.
The ceremony honoring Octavius Catto (1839-1871) took place at 6th and Lombard Streets, Philadelphia. It was co-sponsored by the Catto Society and the General Meade Society. Pennsylvania National Guard “Major Catto Award” Ceremony followed at 12:30 p.m. at the Union League.
On October 10, 1871, Pennsylvania Militia Major Catto was murdered during a day of riots organized to stop African American from voting. More than 5,000 citizens attended Catto’s funeral procession, the second largest in the city since Lincoln’s. He was an esteemed teacher, principal and civil rights activist. He will soon not only have a prominent place in the city’s history, but also outside City Hall.
New York artist Branly Cadet has unveiled his design for a memorial. The sculpture, which will be placed along the southwestern apron of City Hall, will be the first among the city’s collection dedicated solely to an African American. It will explore aspects of Catto’s life that include his efforts to desegregate Philadelphia’s streetcars and to have the state ratify the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gave all men — regardless of race — the right to vote. More than $1.6 million was raised for the tribute, with funding from the city and other partners.
Born in 1839 in South Carolina, Catto’s parents moved the family to Philadelphia, where he obtained a good education. He worked tirelessly for the all men to get the right to vote. He successfully led efforts to integrate streetcars in Philadelphia in 1867. Catto was 32 years old when he was gunned down on Oct. 10, 1871, while on his way to a polling site in South Philadelphia to serve in his official capacity as a National Guardsman assigned to protect newly registered African-American voters during a political riot.
“I wanted to get a sense of the space, physical location, and what his life was like,” the sculptor added. “He was an historical figure who had an impact on my life. Because of him, I can walk around freely and I can vote, so I thought it was important to highlight these two particular aspects of his life for the memorial. From there, I came up with the final design for the sculpture, which not only reflects Catto’s accomplishments, but his life.”
The memorial consists of a ground level collection of sculptural elements including a bronze statue of Catto, a granite abstraction of a 1860s horse-car and a representation of a mid-19th century ballot box. The granite forms of the horse-car and the ballot box will each be engraved and adorned with text and images of Catto’s various accomplishments in education, the military, sports, activism and leadership. The project is expected to be completed in spring 2017.