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Philadelphia Honors Black Activist Octavius V. Catto With City Hall Statue

Octavius V Catto
Octavius V. Catto statue

A 12-foot bronze statue of Octavius V. Catto — 19th century educator, baseball player, abolitionist, and civil rights activist — was unveiled Sept. 26th on the south apron of City Hall. The memorial, called “A Quest for Parity,” is the first monument to a single African-American person on public space in Philadelphia.

Catto was born in 1839 in South Carolina but raised in Philly. He held the role of student, teacher, and principal at the Institute for Colored Youth, now Cheyney University. Catto fought for emancipation alongside Frederick Douglass. He co-founded the Philadelphia Pythians, one of the first African-American baseball clubs. And Catto championed the desegregation of Philly’s trolley system.

He was shot and killed on Election Day in October 1871, a day marked with violence throughout the city as many white rioters stormed through black neighborhoods in an attempt to silence the black vote. But now, more than 140 years after his tragic death, he’s making history once more, right outside City Hall


During an unveiling ceremony on the morning of Sept. 26th, the statue of Catto joined the ranks of over 1,500 public statues in the city. Traffic choked the streets around City Hall as hundreds of people descended on the building to catch a glimpse of the new memorial.

Octavius V. Catto
Branly Cadet

“In this design, I have endeavored to not only celebrate the life of Octavius Catto, but also the values that Catto and his peers embodied so brilliantly: respect, growth, fairness, education… and civic engagement,” said sculptor Branly Cadet.

The memorial features a voting box behind which stands the statue of Catto himself. There are also pillars representing trolley cars. And the memorial bears an excerpt from Catto’s writing: “There must come a change which shall force upon this nation that course which providence seems wisely to be directing for the mutual benefit of peoples.”

The Octavius V. Catto Society, American Legion Post 405, Military Order Loyal Legion of the United States, and the 3rd Regiment, United States Colored Troops all laid wreaths at the foot of the statue to honor Catto.

“May the unveiling of this memorial herald a new era of celebration,” said Cadet, “herald a new era of acknowledgment and understanding, and herald a new era of deep and lasting healing.”

Octavius V. Catto Memorial Fund: 


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Phyllis Coley
Phyllis D. Coley is CEO/Publisher of Spectacular Magazine and Host of Spectacular Magazine Radio Show. With a B.A. in English from NCCU, the Durham native began her professional career as Promotions/Marketing Director for New York City’s WKTU-FM. While at the radio station, Coley discovered the rap group Kid ‘n Play and managed them for five years, guiding their music and movie careers to success. Moving back to Durham, Coley produced a nationally syndicated television show, The Electric Factory, while working as News Director for FOXY 107/104. In April 2002, recognizing a void in highlighting the achievements of African Americans, she started her own business publishing ACE Magazine. Coley launched Spectacular Magazine in November 2004. Recognizing the lack of pertinent and truthful information, Coley began Spectacular Magazine Radio Show in March 2009. Coley is the organizer of Durham's Annual MLK/Black History Month Parade and the Annual North Carolina Juneteenth Celebration. She currently serves on Central Children’s Home Board of Directors, Raleigh Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Advisors, as Immediate Past Secretary of the Durham Rotary Club Board of Directors and is one of the founding members of the Triangle United Way’s African American Leadership Initiative.

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