Question of the Week
The Pythians baseball club was formed by which two men?
Answer: Octavius V. Catto and Jacob C. White Jr.
In 1867, the Pythians, an African American baseball club, had its first season of play in Philadelphia. The club was formed out of the Knights of the Pythias Lodge, a fraternal organization, and organized by activist Octavius V. Catto and his friend Jacob C. White Jr.
During its short existence, the Pythians played against both African American and white teams locally and regionally. For Catto and his fellow Pythian teammates, baseball was more than just a game; it was yet another playing field upon which African Americans could challenge and compete for equal participation and recognition.
Catto was a competitor both on and off the ball field. A native of South Carolina and the son of a pastor, Catto received a liberal arts education at the Quaker-founded Institute for Colored Youth. He fought for the opportunity for African Americans to serve with the military during the Civil War; he protested against segregated street cars; and he became corresponding secretary of the newly-formed Pennsylvania State Equal Rights League.
The Pythians folded shortly after Catto’s untimely death in October 1871. He had been preparing for Philadelphia local elections that year, and he knew that racial tensions ran high between African American and white voters. Just prior to election days, violence broke out against African Americans and Catto found himself in the crossfire. He was shot twice by an unknown assailant and died just outside his own front steps at Eight and South Streets. No one was ever convicted of the crime.
Records on Catto and the Pythians can be found at HSP in the Leon Gardiner collection of American Negro Historical Society records (#8). HSP's library also has numerous resources on Catto and the history of baseball in Philadelphia.
About the Author
Look for these history stories every Sunday in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The stories, called Memory Stream, are published in the Currents section of the newspaper.