Catto In Memoriam Timelines: The Catto Years

Catto’s funeral is the largest public funeral in Philadelphia since Lincoln’s and his death is mourned in many black communities throughout the country. He was seen as the “most magnetic and promising leader that the Philadelphia black community had yet produced.” He was laid to rest at Lebanon Graveyard, a black cemetery run by the family of childhood friend and Pythian teammate, Jacob White, Jr. When Lebanon was condemned and closed in the early 20th Century, Catto was remains were moved to Eden Cemetery, a historic African American cemetery, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2008, Catto’s headstone was vandalized along with 200 others. A new headstone, “Remembering a Forgotten Hero”, was put in place in 2010.

Catto was well known in many places in the United States, in large part because of his extensive network of civil rights activists. Stories of Catto’s assassination appeared in papers throughout the United States, including in the New York Times. Rev Henry Highland Garnett eulogized Catto at Shiloh Presbyterian Church in NYC. John Mercer Langston convened the law faculty at Howard University and said: “Yet we cannot but express the hope that out of the life-blood of O.V. Catto (another of our martyrs) a holier and better civilization may spring, that hate no man on account of his creed and color.”

Catto was honored with the naming of the Catto Secondary School in Philadelphia in 1895. Caroline LeCount, his fiancé, was named principal, the first black person in the city to hold such a position. Later the Catto Disciplinary School opened, when the Secondary School closed. This school was renamed to honor Paul Robeson. Today, the OV Catto Community School (K-8) in Camden, New Jersey stands as a memorial to Catto. (After Catto’s death his family regrouped in New Jersey, maintaining his earlier connections in that state.)

In October 1871, a ‘Catto Medal’ was authorized for deserving soldiers of the Pennsylvania National Guard by order of General Louis Wagner, commander of the 5th Brigade, PANG as an honor and commemoration for Major Octavius V. Catto, Inspector General, 5th Brigade. The medal was not awarded again until 2012. The original medal cast was lost over the years and a new Catto medal cast was created, when the award was reinstated.

Benjamin Tanner and others sought to have a memorial created to honor Catto’s honor, but with no success.

In 1903, the Elk Lodge had its name change to be the O.V. Catto Lodge. The Lodge’s original banner is in the collections of the Philadelphia History Museum.

St. Thomas African Episcopal Church continually recognizes Catto as its honored churchmen and maintains archives and artifacts related to Catto. Among these is a ceremonial bat of the Pythians.

In 2004, the Hon. James Kenney, then City Councilman, served as a catalyst for forming the O.V. Catto Memorial Fund to have a public monument honoring Catto placed on the apron of City Hall.

One hundred and forty-six years after Catto’s death in September 2017, the City of Philadelphia with support from the Catto Memorial Fund dedicated a public monument to him on the apron of City Hall. Designed by sculptor Branly Cadet, the memorial is the first on public land in Philadelphia to honor an African American.