Black History Month may be over, but that does not mean the end of studying African American history. In Philadelphia cultural organizations and the City’s council members have designated 2014 as the year to commemorate a typically unsung hero, Octavius V. Catto (whose birthday was on February 22). They have made a notable announcement of a memorial to be erected in Catto’s honor, which also brings local news and current events into the classroom.
The new bronze will be the first of any particular African American and will bring due recognition to the integral role and impact of African Americans in this nation’s history. In fact, the plans to erect a monument in Catto’s honor dates back all the way to 1897 when the ninth volume of “The Monumental News” was published. Here we are, over a century later, and these plans are finally coming into fruition. Bring this unfolding of history into your classroom by sharing Catto’s story. These Preserving American Freedom essays, Liberty, Slavery and Freedom and Citizenship and Freedom in Post-Civil War America, include information about Octavius.
During an 1871 Election Day riot in Octavius Catto was assassinated for attempting to exercise his right to vote. This illustration depicts both Catto and the scene of his death. Have your students think about Catto’s resilience and commitment to justice as he faced grave dangers. What does that mean about the struggle for justice in this nation’s history? Even before the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and 70s, Octavius Catto was an activist for civil rights at the same time of W.E.B Dubois. He represents a story that will soon be commemorated with a Philadelphia monument, but can also be commemorated through education in your classroom!
HSP’s archives hold a few interesting background reads for you and your students to take advantage; this includes a dedicative work authored by contemporaries of Octavius V. Catto. We also house a popular 2010 publication entitled Tasting Freedom: Octavius Catto and the battle for equality in civil war America, written by local Pulitzer Prize winner Daniel Biddle and writer Murray Dublin. Listen to this HSP recording of Biddle and Dublin themselves discussing the life and times Octavius Valentine Catto.The Temple University Press also has published a concise and insightful interview of both authors, which sheds light on their research and preparation for the book, as well as on the life and symbol, Octavius Catto.