Octavius Catto

Octavius Valentine Catto (February 22, 1839 – October 10, 1871) was a black educator, intellectual, and civil rights leader in Philadelphia. He became principal of male students at the Institute for Colored Youth, where he had also been educated. The Institute for Colored Youth would one day become Cheyney University. Born free in Charleston, South Carolina in a prominent family, he moved north as a boy with his family. He became educated and served as a teacher, becoming active in civil rights. As a man, he served in the Civil War as a major in the Pennsylvania National Guard in one of the all colored companies.

Catto stood up for his civil rights and demonstrated the value of African American to society. He was killed in election day violence in Philadelphia, where opposing political parties attacked black men to prevent their voting against their candidate.

On October 10, 1871, on his way to vote, Octavius Catto was shot and killed. No one was convicted for the murder.  Catto was given a military funeral and laid to rest at Lebanon Cemetery.

To honor Octavius Catto, Mayor Jim Kenney announced on June 10, 2016, that a new sculpture would stand outside of Philadelphia City Hall. The statue “A Quest for Parity” by artist Branly Cadet, was installed at City Hall  on September 24, 2017, and dedicated on September 26, 2017. It is the first public monument in Philadelphia to honor a specific African American.


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