Special Service – Octavius Catto

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Date(s) - 02/25/2018
10:30 am - 11:45 am



Special Program to Feature Reenactor of

19th-century Civil Rights Advocate Octavius Catto

Reenactor Robert Branch will bring early civil rights’ hero Octavius Catto to life Sunday, February 25, 10:30 a.m., at the Thomas Paine Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Collegeville, PA.

Catto, born 1839 in South Carolina, was raised in Philadelphia. He was a student, teacher and principal at the Institute for Colored Youth, now Cheyney University. He fought for emancipation alongside Frederick Douglass and championed the desegregation of Philly’s trolley system. He also co-founded the Philadelphia Pythians, one of the first African-American baseball clubs.

Catto was shot and killed on Election Day in October 1871, a day marked with violence throughout the city as many white rioters stormed through black neighborhoods in an attempt to silence the black vote.

Catto seemed lost to history but in recent years has been gaining the recognition he deserves.

A biography, Tasting Freedom: Octavius Catto and the Battle for Equality in Civil War America, was published in 2010. He was honored in the Freedom Festival at the Mann Center in 2014 which featured the premiere of an original musical work, “The Passion of Octavius Catto.” This past summer, a 12-foot bronze statue of Catto was unveiled on the south apron of Philadelphia’s City Hall. The memorial, “A Quest for Parity,” is the first monument to a single African-American person in a public space in Philadelphia.

Catto reenactor Robert Branch, a native Philadelphian, earned his Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from Swarthmore College. He won the Innovator award from

the Electric Power Research Institute for his work in foundry sand reclamation.  He later spent

over ten years working with disadvantaged children in South Africa, where he was named Volunteer of the Year. Upon his return to the U.S., he pursued a career as a performer, working as a historic interpreter, storyteller and tour guide.

Branch portrayed Catto during a press conference announcing Philadelphia’s contribution toward the project to erect a statue in Catto’s honor. Branch has also performed to support diversity initiatives at PNC Bank, law firms, universities, and schools.

The program is free and open to the public.