Octavius Catto

A man of brotherly love

Born Charleston, South Carolina 1839 as a free man.

His father was a founding member of Philadelphia’s Banneker Institute, an African-American intellectual and literary society.

Founded the city’s second black baseball team, the Philadelphia Pythians in 1865 along with Jacob C. White. Played shortstop and was the team captain.

The only surviving image of Octavius Catto
The only surviving photo of Octavius Catto / Historical Society of Philadelphia
An envelope address to the Pythians from the Athletic Base Ball Club
An envelope address to the Pythians from the Athletic Base Ball Club / Historical Society of Philadelphia
The second great match game for the championship, between the Athletic Base Ball Club of Philadelphia and the Atlantics of Booklyn, on the grounds of the Athletics, Fifteenth & Columbia Avenue, Phila., Oct. 22nd, 1866 / Library Company of Philadelphia

American colonists began playing baseball as early as the 1780s. After the Civil War, the sport grew in popularity, but black ballplayers had a hard time finding teams, fields and equipment.

In October 1867, the Pythians applied for admission to the Pennsylvania Association of Amateur Base Ball Players but were denied because they were black.  This officially set the color barrier in baseball. 

A martyr for democracy.

National Guard major who recruited soldiers for the Union Army and president of the Institute for Colored Youth (now Cheyney University)

Organized black society in Philadelphia and fought to desegregate the city’s trolley car system

A poster calling men to fight in the Civil War signed by Catto. The conscripts were denied because they were black.
A broadside calling men to fight in the Civil War signed by Catto. The conscripts were denied because they were black.
Octavius Catto statue at Philadelphia City Hall. Photo by Cheney University, formerly Institute for Colored Youth, in which Catto served as president.
Octavius Catto statue at Philadelphia City Hall. Photo by Cheney University, formerly Institute for Colored Youth, in which Catto served as president.

Murdered at 8th & South Street on Election Day in 1871 while exercising his right to vote.  He was 32 years old.  

A statue of Catto sits on the south side of Philadelphia’s City Hall.

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