Octavius V. Catto
Octavius Valentine Catto was born in Charleston South Caroline on February 22, 1839
and moved to Philadelphia with his family in 1850. Son of a prominent Presbyterian
minister, Catto graduated (and was class valedictorian) at the Institute for Colored Youth
(which later became Cheney University) and later was a professor at the Institute. A
renaissance man, he was trained in classical languages, was an accomplished athlete,
founding, coaching and playing shortstop for the Pythians, one of the first Black Baseball
teams. Catto helped to found the Banneker Institute, was inducted as a member of the
Franklin Institute, and during the Civil War, raised a Black Regiment . In 1867 he led an
action using passive resistance and political influence to desegregate Philadelphia streetcars.
He was said to be a speaker of pleasing voice, gracious yet forceful manner and
persuasive power. On October 10, 1871 on election day in the first election after the
passage of the 15th amendment, he was assassinated on the street by Frank Kelly, a
Democratic operative, who was tried for the murder and acquitted.
Catto was buried at Lebanon Cemetery and later re-interred at Eden Cemetery located on
Springfield Road near Darby. On October 10, 2007, the 136th Anniversary of his death, a
memorial for Octavius Valentine Catto was unveiled at his gravesite which is near
the final resting places of his fiancee, educator and streetcar desegregation activist
Caroline LeCount. Also close is the grave of streetcar activist William Still, known as the
"Father of the Underground Railroad".
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