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New monument to honor OV Catto, Philly titan of civil rights

Octavius Catto, who integrated Philly streetcars in his 20s and fought for civil rights, will now be permanently honored.
Octavius Catto (Wikimedia Commons)

It has been nearly 150 years in the making. But it is finally here.

Octavius Valentine Catto, of Philadelphia, was an intellectual, scholar, teacher, athlete, Civil War veteran and civil rights leader. At age 32 on Election Day, 1871, he was murdered in the street by white men while trying to exercise his right to vote.

On Tuesday, a memorial will be unveiled honoring Catto. It will be the first monument to be placed on public land in Philadelphia that honors an individual African-American.

At 11 a.m. on the southwest corner of City Hall, Mayor Jim Kenney and other dignitaries will unveil the statue to Catto.

Kenney called the statute, by African-American artist Branly Cadet, “groundbreaking.”

Catto, born in 1839, was a member of the Union League, The Library Company of Philadelphia and The Franklin Institute, in addition to being “a prominent civil rights leader who fought for the right to vote for all men regardless of ethnicity, and successfully led efforts to integrate street cars in Philadelphia in 1867,” according to the OV Catto Memorial Fund.

“He was gunned down on Election Day – October 10, 1871 –  at the age of 32 while on his way to the polls to serve in his official capacity as a National Guardsman assigned to protect newly registered African-American voters,” the fund stated.

Catto and other black voters, who mostly planned to vote Republican, which at that time was the party of Lincoln, clashed on Election Day with ethnic Irish voters who supported the Democratic party. Catto was shot to death at Ninth and South streets by a white Irishman who was never convicted of assault or murder. It was never shown if Catto was able to pull his own gun, which he had purchased for self-defense.

As early as 1897, African-American residents of Philadelphia were calling for a monument to Catto’s achievements, according to The New York Times.

Now, that wish will finally come true.