Octavius V. Catto Historical Marker
Pennsylvania state historical marker placed at the former residence of the great African American activist, educator and sportsman Octavius V. Catto (1839-71). In addition to co-founding the Pythians baseball club of Philadelphia, one of the most successful and historically significant all-black teams of their time, Catto spearheaded the movement that led to the racial integration of streetcars in Philadelphia and worked to help African Americans gain the right to vote with the passage of the 15th Amendment to the Constitution in 1870. During a time of violent unrest shortly before the fall 1871 elections in Philadelphia, Catto was murdered in the street, a victim of a politically motivated assassination.
Backstory and Context
Already a political leader, in 1866 Catto was on a panel representing the Equal Rights League that successfully lobbied the state to desegregate Philadelphia's streetcars. The following year, Catto and his old friend White founded the Pythians Baseball Club of Philadelphia, an all-black team modeled on their white counterparts. The Pythians were a social and sporting organization and their games were community events, generally followed by large banquets and attended by large crowds. These all-day affairs served as meeting places for prominent black leaders to discuss the political issues of the time.2
Catto served as the Pythians shortstop and manager. In 1867, the team compiled a record of 8-3-1 playing against all-black clubs in other cities like Baltimore, Harrisburg, Camden and Washington D.C., and filed an application to join the Pennsylvania Association of Amateur Base Ball Players. Despite being nominated by the all-white Philadelphia Athletics, the Pythians were rebuffed and withdrew their application.3 Later that year the National Association of Base Ball Players, the closest thing baseball had to a governing body at the time, would pass a rule prohibiting teams with minority members from gaining membership. Despite this setback, the Pythians would continue on for several years. In 1869, they became the first all-black to take the field against an all-white squad, falling to the Olympics 44-23, before rebounding two weeks later with a victory over the all-white City Item team.
In 1870 Catto shifted his attention to politics. Congress passed the 15th Amendment to the Constitution granting black men the right to vote. This issue faced violent opposition from the Democratic leadership in Philadelphia, and Catto was assassinated in the street in the fall of 1871. He was 32. Catto's funereal was the largest the city had ever seen for an African American, as a procession of soldiers, elected officials, students, and Pythians escorted Catto's body to the Mount Lebanon Cemetery4, where his body was laid to rest.