Octavius Catto

House: South Philly, Monument: Center City
July 2, 2018 to July 2, 2018

Octavius Catto was an Black educator, civil rights activist, and intellectual during the Reconstruction Era. Born on February 22nd in 1839 in Charleston, South Carolina, he advocated for abolition and equal rights during the Civil War with other Black leaders such as Frederick Douglass. Catto was born free as his mother, Sarah Isabella Cain, who belonged to the mixed race DeReef family. His father was Willam T. Catto who was a slave in South Carolina that gained his freedom. His family eventually moved to Philadelphia where Octavius Catto became a student of the Institute for Colored Youth, which he later became principle of. The Institue for Colored Youth later became known as Cheyney University. Catto died in 1871 as a result of election-day violence in Philadelphia because of members of the Democratic Party that were anti-Reconstruction wanting to oppose Black suffrage and wanting to prevent Black men for casing their vote for Republican candidates.

Information Sources

"Tasting Freedom: The Life of Octavius V. Catto": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EYAc6wCUR8kCrimmins, Peter. "Philly presents long overdue honor to ‘true American hero’ Octavius Catto," WHYY: https://whyy.org/articles/philly-presents-long-overdue-honor-true-american-hero-octavius-catto-photos/Romero, Melissa. "Philly unveils the long-awaited Octavius V. Catto Memorial," Curbed Philadelphia: https://philly.curbed.com/2017/9/26/16367396/octavius-catto-monument-philadelphia-city-hall

Oral History Archive




A member of a class of traveling poets, musicians, and storytellers who maintain a tradition of oral history in parts of West Africa.

Oral tradition is a well-established feature of African Diasporic cultures. Our Oral History Archive centers the voices and preserves the memories of Black Philadelphians. Here you will find a collection of stories integrating audio and video recording from individuals and groups concerning everyday life and historical events. 

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