Philadelphia hon­ors black ac­tivist with City Hall statue

The Oneida Daily Dispatch (Oneida, NY) - - Classifieds -

Nearly 150 years af­ter he was killed on the streets of his adopted home­town, Octavius Valentine Catto was honored by a crowd of hun­dreds gath­ered in Philadelphia on Tues­day for the un­veil­ing of a statue in his honor.

The honor is the first such named trib­ute for an African-Amer­i­can on pub­lic land in Philadelphia and comes amid a na­tional con­ver­sa­tion about how and where Amer­ica chooses to cel­e­brate its heroes.

The crowd cheered as a statue of Catto — which seemed to stride boldly in the di­rec­tion of Broad Street in the shadow of City Hall — was re­vealed.

V. Chap­man Smith, vice pres­i­dent of the O.V. Catto Memo­rial Fund, en­cour­aged those gath­ered to pur­sue Catto’s vi­sion and con­tinue to ad­vance the ideals he stood for.

“He was one of our na­tion’s most im­por­tant cit­i­zens who worked for the good of Amer­ica,” Smith said.

Mayor Jim Ken­ney, who first learned of Catto as a city coun­cil­man and led a 15-year cru­sade to memo­ri­al­ize the ac­tivist, called him “a true Amer­i­can hero” who should be revered by all Philadel­phi­ans and whose legacy should be taught to all Amer­i­cans.

“My hope is that some­day, ev­ery child in Philadelphia will know as much about Octavius Valentine Catto as they do about Ben­jamin Franklin, George Wash­ing­ton and Martin Luther King,” Ken­ney said.

Born in 1839, Catto led a civil rights move­ment in Philadelphia a cen­tury be- fore the na­tion’s fight to end seg­re­ga­tion. The 19th­cen­tury ed­u­ca­tor and or­ga­nizer fought for bet­ter ed­u­ca­tion for black stu­dents, led ef­forts to de­seg­re­gate the city’s street cars and pushed for equal vot­ing rights — all be­fore he was killed at age 32.

His con­tri­bu­tions to Amer­i­can democ­racy ri­val some of the coun­try’s most cel­e­brated pa­tri­ots, yet his story has re­mained largely un­known.

“We know more about Rocky — who’s not even a real per­son— thanwe know about Octavius, which says a lot,” Ken­ney said in an in­ter­view.

Sculp­tor Branly Cadet said his aim with the mon­u­ment— which also in­cludes five pil­lars mark­ing Catto’s con­tri­bu­tions as an ed­u­ca­tor, ath­lete and Na­tional Guard­ma­jor— was to high­light the val­ues Catto em­bod­ied, in­clud­ing re­spect, fair­ness, up­lift and civic en­gage­ment.

Philadelphia is in the midst of its own de­bate over a statue of con­tro­ver­sial iconic for­mer Mayor Frank Rizzo. Catto’s statue stands near a sculp­ture of Rizzo, whose com­pli­cated racial legacy has led some to ar­gue that his like­ness should be re­moved from city prop­erty. Af­ter racial vi­o­lence erupted last month in Char­lottesville, Vir­ginia, where protesters gath­ered to op­pose the re­moval of a statue of Con­fed­er­ate Gen­eral Robert E. Lee, de­bate over Rizzo’s fate resur­faced.

Catto’s work ad­vo­cat­ing for vot­ing rights would ul­ti­mately bring about his un­timely death. He worked to get Penn­syl­va­nia to rat­ify the 15th Amend­ment guar­an­tee­ing the right to vote for black men. On Oc­to­ber 10, 1871 — the first Elec­tion Day blacks were al­lowed to vote — Catto was shot to death on his doorstep by Ir­ish-Amer­i­can ward bosses.

Octavius V. Catto Memo­rial Fund: http://www.ov­cat­tomemo­rial.org/

MATT ROURKE — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Ken­ney, cen­ter, and sculp­tor Branly Cadet un­veil a statue of Octavius Valentine Catto at City Hall in Philadelphia, Tues­day, Sept. 26, 2017. Born in 1839, Catto led a civil rights move­ment in Philadelphia a cen­tury be­fore the na­tion’s fight to end seg­re­ga­tion.

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