Octavius V. Catto

Born: 22nd February 1839

Died: 10th October 1871

Birth Place: United States

Known for: Being an educator and civil rights activist.

Catto was offered many jobs but stayed in Philadelphia.

He helped African American men in Pennsylvania win the right to vote.

He was shot and killed on an election day race riot.

We do solemnly pledge ourselves to assist by our means any suit brought against the perpetrators of outrage.

Octavius V. Catto

Life story


Education and early career


Octavius Catto was born into a free family (before slavery was abolished), and brought up in the state of Philadelphia. Though he was able to go to school, they were still segregated at this time. Catto was extremely driven to get a good education. When he finished school, he went to the Institute for Coloured Youth, which was one of the first schools to provide free education for African Americans. After graduating, Catto got a job at the same school as a teacher for English, Maths, and Classical Languages.


Catto set up the Banneker Literary Institute, which promoted education and debating, where he often gave academic talks on a variety of subjects. He also set up the Equal Rights League in October 1864, which advocated for the freedom of African American citizens from slavery. Catto became involved in a number of civil, political, patriotic, and literary groups, such as the Union League Association, which aimed to improve lives through education and politics.


Equal rights activism


He was a strong supporter of equal rights and ending slavery throughout this time, and contributed towards major social changes, such as the Bill of Rights in 1867, which gave everyone access to public transport. Catto established the National Equal Rights League (NERL) with Frederick Douglass as president, which was an organisation that focused on eliminating racial discrimination in society.


At this time, America was in the middle of a civil war, so Catto trained African American soldiers to fight. But despite their military skill and expertise, they were not used because of prejudice against their race. Instead, he continued to push African American rights, fighting for their freedom and was very influential in achieving the 15th amendment in Pennsylvania, meaning African American men could vote. Despite these positive changes, many people didn’t like what was happening and started to riot. On election day in 1871, one of these riots resulted in the fatal shooting of Octavius Catto.

What do you think Octavius V. Catto’s greatest achievement is? How do you think Octavius V. Catto felt after the troops he trained were not wanted because of racial discrimination? Why would someone have rioted and shot Octavius V. Catto?

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