African American History comes alive at Walnut St. Library
The Free Library announces a free lecture on one of the country’s singular civil rights activists and martyrs Octavius Catto at the Walnut Street West Library, 201 South 40th Street (40th & Walnut Streets) at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, May 15. Reservations are necessary and may be obtained by calling 215-685-7671.
The presentation by Pulitzer Prize winner Dan Biddle and Murray Dubin will provide oft-overlooked moments from American Civil Rights history: The 19th Century; drawing from their book Tasting Freedom: Octavius Catto and the battle for equality in Civil War America.
Catto was an early African American educator, intellectual, and civil rights leader and affectionately called the “Martin Luther King Jr. of the 19th Century.” He fought for equality alongside Frederick Douglass and played on the country’s first racially integrated baseball team. During the Civil War, Professor Catto was commissioned a major in the First Division of the state’s National Guard, helping recruit hundreds of Black soldiers for the Union Army.
The great respect that Pennsylvania citizens had for Catto’s Civil War efforts was a factor in their approval of the 15th Amendment to our Constitution in 1869 which guaranteed voting rights for black males.
An outstanding athlete, after black men were rejected from membership in the National Association of BaseBall Players in 1866, he established the Pythian BaseBall Club of Philadelphia, where he was captain, manager, promoter, and star infielder.
He was also principal and professor for male students at the Institute for Colored Youth—The first high school for African Americans, in Philadelphia – which was the forerunner of Cheney University.
Catto was shot and killed by Frank Kelly during election-day violence in Philadelphia in 1871. Long overlooked, he is now honored by a statue outside of city hall in his likeness. (Kelly was acquitted of all charges).
Dubin and Biddle will also discuss the history of early 20th century civil rights leader Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander, a Philadelphia native and the first African American to receive a Ph.D. in economics in the United States and the first woman to receive a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School—becoming the first Black woman to practice law in Pennsylvania. She is the namesake of the local Penn-Alexander School.
The presenters will also touch on stories of the moments of anticipation between Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation and the enactment of the abolition of slavery.
After the talk, Biddle and Dubin will be available to answer questions and have an open conversation with the audience. There will be an opportunity to get books signed.
Octavius V. Catto was buried at the nearby Eden Cemetery, the first cemetery in the Philadelphia area dedicated for Blacks located at 1434 Springfield Rd, Darby, PA.
(Information for this article was taken from the Walnut Street and the find-a-grave websites and by Globe Times staff.)