Shots rang out near the corner of 8th and South Streets on Election Day, October 10, 1871. African American civil rights activist, teacher, military officer, and pioneer baseball organizer Octavius Catto was gunned down by one or more racist assassins.
Catto was fresh from casting his vote and walking hope after visiting the city’s mayor Daniel Fox. Fox had assured him that the National Guard, in which Catto was a Major, would turn out to quell the race-inspired rioting which would eventually cost the lives of 10 black men. A block from his home, Catto became embroiled with a mob of whites. While details are obscure, Catto’s brief but consequential 38- year life ended when one of the bullets entered his heart.
To memorialize Catto’s tragic story, members of the Athletic Base Ball Club (ABBC) gathered in the shade October 12 around his impressive memorial plaque at the Eden Cemetery, 1423 Springfield Road in Collingdale. Placing their beautiful floral display at the gravesite, the attendees enjoyed a spirited and moving eulogy on Catto’s short but powerful life story by Scott Alberts, ABBC’s founder and sometime rightfielder.
Alberts, a financial administrator at Penn, Upper Darby township treasurer, and local historian, carries such oblique nicknames as “small bore” or “big deal.” He outlined the life of Catto, whose father emerged from slavery in South Carolina and became pastor of the First African Church, here. Alberts centered on Catto’s efforts to desegregate the trolley system, his inspiring tutelage of black students at the Institute for Colored Youth, and his formation in 1867 of the second black baseball team, the Pythians.
While the Pythians were barred from joining the National Baseball League and were never allowed to play the Philadelphia Athletics, in 1869, they were the first to play against an all-white team – which they scorched by the score of 27-17.
Following the ceremony at the Eden Cemetery, the Athletic Base Ball Club repaired to a field across the street and played a game that followed the field layout and rules originated in 1864. The ABBC is a member of the Middle Atlantic Vintage Baseball League. To find out more about their activities, visit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Athletic_Base_Ball_Club_of_Philadelphia
Eden Cemetery was established in 1902 to fulfill the needs of the African American community. It is the final resting place for such illustrious people as signer Marian Anderson. It can be reached through its website at www.edencemetery.org