Octavius V. Catto. Photo: Wikipedia

Philadelphia to Install First Public Statue to Honor an African American

Stephen Salisbury of reports that the city of Philadelphia will install its first public sculpture honoring the life of an African American. The city’s decision to install the statue follows a growing national protest against public Confederate monuments. The work will be a commemoration of educator, civil rights activist, and ballplayer Octavius V. Catto.

“Philadelphia has more than 1,700 statues on public land, which is more than any other city,” said Murray Dubin, a former Inquirer reporter and author, with colleague Daniel R. Biddle, of Tasting Freedom: Octavius Catto and the Battle for Equality in Civil War America (2010). “None of these statues are about named or individual African Americans. None.”

The twelve-foot-tall bronze will be erected next month where Catto was murdered on the southern apron of City Hall. Catto was shot and killed on election day in Philadelphia in 1871 while fighting for black suffrage. Behind the statue will be five upturned streetcars made of granite. In front of the figure will be a stainless-steel ballot box resting on a table. These elements refer to Catto’s successful campaign to desegregate the city’s horse-drawn streetcars in 1867 and his fight for the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Excerpts from his writings will also be incised on the monument.

“He’s not in any history books kids in high school and middle school have now,” said Dubin. “Nobody knows about Catto. He was an extraordinary, forgotten African American, [an] American hero.”