Civil Rights Timeline with Catto

Catto left South Carolina at the age of seven and arrived in the Philadelphia region, home to the largest free black community in the North in 1848. This community in Catto’s new home had an early legacy of strong institution building and long-standing traditions of advocacy for civil rights, dating from the early founding of the nation. These early African American activists and community builders were the first generation of free blacks on whose shoulders Catto would rise. The schooling Catto received and the intellectual and political thought of this community, which his father, William, helped to shape, enabled Octavius to become “the most magnetic and promising leader that the Philadelphia black community had yet produced.” (Russell F. Weigley, Philadelphia: A 300 Year History)

The greater Philadelphia region had deep anti-slavery traditions and laws, despite its close economic connections to the Southern cotton economy. However, there were many hostile elements in Catto’s new world, including racial and ethnic conflicts. William Wells Brown, American abolitionist and novelist, said of Philadelphia: “Colorphobia is more rampant here than in the pro-slavery, negro-bating city of New York.” Philadelphia was a border city with such strong southern sentiments and alliances that Abraham Lincoln was concerned that it would lean to the Confederate side during the Civil War. This environment made a mark on Catto and is part of America’s Civil Rights story. The timeline presents these influences and forces.

Catto’s death also served as a catalyst in the continuing struggle for social justice well into the 20th Century, and many activities and individuals of that period have connections to him and his legacy. Catto’s legacy is an important marker in the black community and among civil rights advocates. He represented the second generation of aspiring young African Americans among a small middle class and elites after the American Revolution. Their lives were in stark contrast to the majority of blacks, both free and enslaved, in America, who lived in poverty or had fragile existences. Catto marks the wave of activists that marched on in the late 19th century and the subsequent group that matured into the early 20th century. This timeline also shows this development. The efforts of all of them evidence the long struggle for equality and justice that has been the American Civil Rights story. You can see key events by scrolling through each timeline below.

Slavery in Pennsylvania

September 27, 1639
Slavery in Pennsylvania

The earliest evidence of slavery in Pennsylvania. William Penn and the colonists tolerated slavery. However, high tariffs in the 18th Century eventually discouraged the importation of more enslaved people and encouraged to use of indentured servants.

First Petition Against Slavery

September 26, 1688

Quakers and Mennonites in Germantown (Pennsylvania) petitioned against slavery. This is the first protest against African slavery made by a religious body in the English colonies.

Slavery Central to South Carolina Economy

September 26, 1708

By this time, slavery becomes a central part of the South Carolina economy with enslaved Africans representing the majority of the population. Native Americans as well as Africans were enslaved initially. However, after the Yamasee War (1715), slavery was virtually exclusive of Africans. The exceptions were the “lifetime indentured servants” who came as prisoners from Britain for their role in the failed Scottish Jacobite Rebellion (1774-46). South Carolina was also a favorable climate for the settlement of Sephardic Jewish immigrants, many of whom became slaveholders. By 1800, Charleston had the largest Jewish population in the United States. South Carolina was racially stratified into three racial categories: white, mulatto and black. It was a multi-cultural society with a slavery dependent social order.

Pennsylvania Abolition Society Founded

September 26, 1775

Pennsylvania Abolition Society established by Anthony Benezet, an advocate and educator for blacks both male and females. Absalom Jones (St. Thomas Church) and Richard Allen (Mother Bethel) were among his students. In 1790 the Society submitted a petition to the first U.S. Congress, under Benjamin Franklin’s signature, to end slavery.

Black American Revolution Service

September 26, 1776
Black American Revolution Service

During the American Revolutionary War, many free blacks and some enslaved Africans served and supported the American side in the War. Among the most well-known was James Forten, who was born free, became a wealthy sailmaker in Philadelphia and became a prominent leading force in the black community’s fight for equality. He, along with other prominent Philadelphia blacks, provided financial support to William Lloyd Garrison to publish The Liberator. Forten lived until 1842, but his legacy continued to loom large in Philadelphia’s black community when Catto arrived with his family.

Gradual Abolition in Pennsylvania

September 26, 1780

Pennsylvania enacts the Gradual Abolition Act, the first of such laws in English speaking America.

Free African Society

September 26, 1787
Free African Society

Richard Allen and Absalom Jones join with others to form the Free African Society in Philadelphia. The society was a mutual aid and religious organization for “free Africans and their descendants”, where members could socialize and forge business relationships. The organization served as a catalyst for other such black organizations to form in the city and other places.

American Convention for Pomoting the Abolition of Slavery

September 26, 1794

Founding of the American Convention for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, a joining of several state and regional antislavery societies into a national organization to promote abolition. Conference held in Philadelphia.

First Independent Black Churches Formed

September 26, 1794
First Independent Black Churches Formed

The first independent black churches in America (St. Thomas African Episcopal Church and Bethel Church) established in Philadelphia by Absalom Jones and Richard Allen, respectively, as an act of self-determination and a protest against segregation.

Slave Trade Act of 1794

September 26, 1794

While in Philadelphia, Congress enacts the federal Slave Trade Act of 1794 prohibiting any American vessels from outfitting for the purpose of transporting enslaved people to any foreign country.  The U.S. Navy monitors the waterways for illegal activity.

Catto Family in South Carolina

September 26, 1798
Catto Family in South Carolina

Richard Edward DeReef, a free black, is born in Charleston, South Carolina. With his brother, Joseph, he became among the richest black men in Charleston and are both patriarchs of O. V. Catto’s DeReef family line. Because of their “dark” complexions, the brothers were not accepted in the elite levels of Charleston’s mulatto society. The pair helped to form the Brown Fellowship Society. Richard DeReef owned up to 20 enslaved people, which made him one of the largest slaveholders of color in the U.S. He and his cousin, John Cain, went to court in 1823 and persuaded a magistrate to exempt them from the state free Negro tax, because they were Native American descendants.

Free Blacks Petition Congress to End Slave Trade

September 26, 1800

Absalom Jones and 70 other prominent free black Philadelphians petition Congress to end the slave trade.

Gabriel Insurrection

September 26, 1800

Gabriel, an enslaved African in Virginia, attempts to organize a mass insurrection and rebellion. In response, southern whites put in place more restrictions on both free blacks and enslave Africans in Virginia and other Southern states.

Ganges Africans Rescue from Slavery

September 26, 1800

Judge Richard Peters, the first federal judge in Philadelphia and founding father, turns custody of 134 Africans recused by the naval vessel USS Ganges from slave ships over to the Pennsylvania Abolition Society. This enables the captives to become free people in Pennsylvania.

Haitian Independence

September 26, 1804
Haitian Independence

The Independence of Haiti. French and African Haitian refugees flee to Philadelphia, increasing the international character and population of the city.

Colonization Rejection

September 26, 1817

In January, James Forten, along with Bishop Richard Allen, Absalom Jones, and James Gloucester held a meeting on colonization of blacks to Liberia at Mother Bethel Church . The meeting draws 3,000 attendees, who resoundingly disapproved of the idea. This meeting forced a dramatic turning point for these leaders. They no longer put support to colonization efforts. It was clear by this time that most free blacks and enslaved had been born in the United States and claimed it as their own.

Robert Purivs Moves to Philadelphia

September 26, 1819
Robert Purivs Moves to Philadelphia

Robert Purvis’ family moves from Charleston to Philadelphia, planned as an interim stop. William Purvis wanted to relocate his family to his native Scotland, but died in Philadelphia, leaving a fortune to his sons. Robert Purvis became an important abolition and civil rights leader in Philadelphia. His father, William Purvis, was a wealthy white businessman, and his mother, Harriett Judah, was mixed race. In Charleston, the Purvis couple was only able to have a “common law” marriage due to restrictive laws. Robert Purvis, although frequently mistaken to be “white”, defined his identity as a black man and a kindred spirit with his grandmother, whom he said was a full-blooded Moor. His wife, Harriet, was James Forten’s daughter. Together, they formed the Vigilant Committee in the 1840’s to aid fugitive slaves. Harriet was also a founding member, with her daughters and Lucretia Mott, of the integrated Philadelphia Female Abolition Society.

Alexander Crummell

September 26, 1819
Alexander Crummell

Alexander Crummell, pioneering ordained Episcopal priest, academic and African nationalist, is born. He was educated at Cambridge University. Crummell’s pan-nationalist philosophy later inspires W.E.B. DuBois, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, and Marcus Garvey. Before founding his own church in Washington, D.C. on 1876, Crummell served as an interim minister at St. Thomas African Episcopal Church, when O.V. Catto was a member an vestryman. DuBois called Crummell the “greatest black intellectual of the 19th Century” and dedicated a chapter to him in Souls of Black Folks. With Benjamin Taller, Crummell founded the American Negro Academy in memory of Frederick Douglass.  His church, St. Luke’s Protestant Episcopal Church, is designated as a National Historic Site.

David Walker Appeal

September 26, 1829
David Walker Appeal

An outspoken African American abolitionist and writer, David Walker published his appeal in Boston. The Appeal outraged many throughout the country, but especially in the South. It was a blunt expose’ of the abuses and inequities of slavery and need for individuals to act responsibily for racial equality. Many historians and liberation theologians cite Walker’s Appeal as an influential potlitcal and social document of the 19th century. Its impact was felt throughout both Southern and Northern states, as its dissemination was enabled by African American seamen in their voyages to port cities.

Denmark Vesey Rebellion

September 26, 1831

The Denmark Vesey “Rebellion” in Charleston, South Carolina. Following this, no independent black churches operated in Charleston again until after the Civil War. Restrictions were placed on free blacks, including not permitting their return into the city, if they left. The restriction compounded the impact of the legislature’s passage of the Negro Seaman’s Act of 1822, requiring free black sailors on ships that docked in Charleston to be imprisoned in the city jail for the period that their ships were in port. These actions sought to limit influences on the state’s enslaved population.

Negro Convention Movement, Philadelphia

September 26, 1831
Negro Convention Movement, Philadelphia

Negro Convention Movement begins in Philadelphia. The convention movement among northern free black men symbolized the growth of a broad black activist network by the mid-nineteenth century. Conventions met dozens of times and were held through 1864. Convention delegates consistently linked the status of free blacks and the enslaved in their calls for meetings. In 1855, organizers of the Philadelphia convention wrote that “the elevation of the free man is inseparable (sic) from, and lies at the very threshold of the great work of the slave’s restoration to freedom.”

Oberlin College Admits Blacks

September 26, 1835

Oberlin College in Ohio becomes the first white collegiate school to admit blacks.

Benjamin Tanner is Born

September 26, 1835
Benjamin Tanner is Born

Benjamin Tanner is born. He becomes a long-time friend of OV Catto, AME Bishop and distinguished intellectual. His son, Henry Ossawa Tanner, became the first African American painter to gain international acclaim. His daughter, Halle Tanner Dillon Johnson, graduated from Women’s Medical College in Philadelphia and became the first female doctor in Alabama. He was the grandfather to civil rights activist Sadie Alexander. During his lifetime, Tanner advocated strongly for the building of monuments and tributes to recognize black accomplishments to America. He was unsuccessful in his efforts to have a memorial erected for Catto.  However, Tanner was successful in his efforts in getting black Americans to commission a marble commemorative bust of Richard Allen, which was on public view at the Centennial Exposition in 1876.

Institute for Colored Youth Founded

September 26, 1837
Institute for Colored Youth Founded

The Institute for Colored Youth (ICY) was founded by Quaker Richard Humphreys as a school providing agricultural and industrial training. By 1851, the focused changed to training African Americans to become teachers. Charles Lewis Reason became the first principal of the school, where he increased student enrollment, expanded the library holdings and exposed the students to outstanding African American intellectuals and leaders of that time. Ebenezer Bassett became the second principal, following the education philosophy of Reason and further exposed the students to leading blacks and intellectuals of the day. Both men would leave a mark on OV Catto, along with an emerging group of young black men and women, who became teachers in black schools across the country. In 1914, ICY (then renamed Cheyney) began offering a collegiate level degree, when it adopted a formal normal school (teacher training) curriculum.

Burning of Pennsylvania Hall

September 26, 1838
Burning of Pennsylvania Hall

The burning of Pennsylvania Hall occurred on the third day of the Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women. The Hall, built by the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, was emblazoned with the motto “Virtue, Liberty and Independence.”  Among the Society founders were James and Lucretia Mott and Robert Purvis. William Still, working as a clerk for the Society in the 1850’s, managed Underground Railroad operations out of the organization’s office. The Anti-Slavery Convention was an interracial gathering, which further enraged agitators who opposed anti-slavery and female activism.

Frederick Douglass Escapes Slavery

September 26, 1838
Frederick Douglass Escapes Slavery

After several earlier attempts, Douglass successfully flees slavery on the Philadelphia-Wilmington-Baltimore railroad line.

Black Voting Rights End in Pennsylvania

September 26, 1838

The expansion of voting rights to poor white men led to the loss of voting rights for black men.


Octavius Catto’s Birth

September 27, 1839

Octavius Catto born to William T. Catto, an aspiring minister and free born millwright, and Sarah Isabella Cain, from the prominent mixed-race DeReef/Cain family, in Charleston, South Carolina. He was their third child. Sarah dies in 1845, a year after the birth of their fourth child.

Amistad Africans Court Case

September 27, 1841

The U.S. Supreme Court rules in the case of the slave ship Amistad that the Africans, who wrested control of ship, had been bound into slavery illegally and violated the 1808 ban on the slave trade. John Quincy Adams was the attorney for the Africans. The case became a symbol for abolishing slavery in America. Prominent blacks, including James Forten and Robert Purvis, provided financial support for the Africans’ defense. Purvis was instrumental in commissioning a portrait by Nathaniel Jocelyn of Joseph Cinque, which was broadly reproduced to raise money for the defense.  The original portrait hung in Purvis’ home. Because of the release of the Africans, Martin Van Buren lost his re-election campaign, and tensions over slavery increased between the North and the South.

Lombard Street Race Violence

September 27, 1842

On the morning of August 1, 1842 in Philadelphia, a parade on Lombard Street of over 1,000 members of the black Young Men’s Vigilant Association, commemorating the eighth anniversary of the end of slavery in the British West Indies, was attacked by an Irish Catholic mob. Over three days of attacks, a black church, an abolition hall, numerous homes and public buildings in the black community were looted, burned or mostly destroyed.

Sarah Catto Dies

September 27, 1845

Catto’s mother, Sarah, dies, a year after the birth of her fourth child. William Catto marries Mary Anderson, a free Charleston mulatto also of the DeReef kinship line, and decides to find a way to pursue the Presbyterian ministry full-time. This decision changes not only the direction of William’s life, but would also sends his family on a journey outside of South Carolina.

Early Base Ball

September 27, 1845

The first recorded baseball game in America. Originally, known as “base ball” (two words), in the mid-19th Century, this sport would grow in popularity, starting with amateur urban clubs. As young men, Catto and his associates first played cricket, but then in 1865 formed the Pythian amateur base ball club, supported by the African American Knights of Pythias fraternal organization, located at 19th and Addison Street in Philadelphia.

Irish in Philadelphia

September 27, 1845

Irish potato famine begins with widespread failures of the potato crop and Irish immigration to America increases, producing increased competition with blacks for employment. The Irish form the largest ethnic group to come into Philadelphia. In the 1840s and 1850s, anti-Catholic sentiment grew against the Irish, and eventually led to nativist riots and the Lombard Street riot, where Irish targeted blacks. Blacks and Irish lived in adjacent communities.

Catto Family Arrives in Philadelphia

September 27, 1848

William Catto’s family leaves Charleston, South Carolina for Baltimore, Maryland with the intent of William going to Liberia as a Presbyterian missionary and teacher in the coastal town of Nanna Kroo. When the South Carolina Presbytery uncovered writings where William wrote to a friend: “Keep the flame burning…”, his license is revoked and orders issued to arrest him and return him South. William packed his family and fled to Pennsylvania. O.V. Catto and his family arrived in Philadelphia, after a short stay in New Jersey. In Philadelphia, OV Catto attends the segregated Vaux Primary School and then enrolled in the Lombard Street Grammar School. His father becomes pastor of the First African Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, which was founded by James Gloucester.

Declaration of Sentiments

September 27, 1848

The Declaration of Sentiments, calling for equal rights for women and men, is signed by 100 men and women in Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, Seneca Falls, New York at the first Women’s Rights Convention led by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. During this time, Mott was also actively involved in the work of the Female Anti-Slavery Society and the Vigilant Committee with Harriett Purvis.

Compromise of 1850

September 27, 1850

Debate on the future of slavery in the territories escalates when Henry Clay introduces the Compromise of 1850 to the U.S. Congress. It culminates with the passage of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, limiting legal rights of escaped slaves and imposing penalties on anyone aiding a fugitive. Any person aiding a runaway slave, by providing food or shelter, was subject to six months’ imprisonment and a $1,000 fine. Abolitionists called this new federal law the “Bloodhound Law”, refering the to use of dogs to track down fugitives. The compromise briefly defused some tensions between slave and free states and abolished the slave trade in Washington, D.C.

Vigilance Committee

September 27, 1850

William Still and others form the Vigilance Committee in Philadelphia to aid escaping blacks and protect free blacks from slave catchers. This becomes part of an expansive network of “Underground Railroad” activity. Philadelphia became an important hub, because it is the most southern major northern city.

Harvard College Admits First Blacks

September 27, 1850

Harvard accepts its first black students. Richard Greener becomes the first black of graduate from Harvard. He came to the Institute for Colored Youth as a teacher and assistant to O.V. Catto. Later in 1871 upon Catto’s assassination, he became head of its male division. Greener later became dean of Howard Law School.

Women’s Medical College in Pennsylvania Opens

September 27, 1850

Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania opens in Philadelphia. It is the second medical institution in the world established to train women in medicine and offer them the M.D. degree. The school had strong abolition connections. In 1867, Rebecca Cole became the first black women to graduate from the school and receives a medical degree. She was the second in the nation to do so. Cole was an ICY graduate. The school’s first African American student was Sarah Mapps Douglass in 1852. Douglass did not graduate, but went on to teach at ICY.

Pliny Ishmael Locke Born

September 27, 1850

Alain Locke’s father, Pliny Ishmael Locke, is born. Pliny attends ICY and is Catto’s teammate and close friend on the Pythians baseball team. Alain Locke, known as the “Father of the Harlem Renaissance”, is ranked among the greatest black intellectuals of the 20th Century.

Christiana Resistance

September 27, 1851

Federal marshals and Maryland slave hunters seek out suspected fugitive slaves in Christiana (Lancaster County), PA, near Philadelphia. In their ensuing struggles with black and white abolitionists, one of the attackers is killed and another is seriously wounded. Thirty-six black men and five whites are charged with treason and conspiracy under the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law. Their trial, held at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, became a cause celebre among blacks and abolitionists. Thaddeus Stevens defended the accused. All defendants were found innocent by the jury.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

September 27, 1852

Uncle Tom’s Cabin is published, helping to inspire the anti-slavery movement in the 1850’s.

Missouri Compromise Repealed

September 27, 1854

With the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, Congress authorized the citizens of the respective states to decide whether they would be free or slave holding. This essentially repealed the Compromise of 1850 and set off bloody battles in Kansas over slavery. Abolitionist John Brown and his sons participated in the “Bleeding Kansas” battles.

Catto Enrolls in the Institute for Colored Youth

September 27, 1854

Catto enrolls in the Institute for Colored Youth (ICY) which offered classical subjects including Latin, Greek, geometry, trigonometry and oratory. Under the leadership of its principals, Charles Reason and Ebenezer Bassett, the school grows the intellectual and social curiosity of its students by bringing in leading black intellectuals and other leaders to engage them. The school was a magnet for students from black middle class and elites families. It was these families, who could afford the tuition or permit their children the time to attend school. Less fortunate families needed their children to work to help support their families.

Republican Party Founded

September 27, 1854

The Republican Party is formed by anti-slavery expansion activists.

Lincoln University Established

September 27, 1854

Lincoln University (originally Ashmun Institute) is established and is the first degree granting black collegiate school in the U.S. During its first 100 years, Lincoln graduates approximately 20% of the black physicians and 10% of black attorneys in the United States. Thurgood Marshall and Langston Hughes are among its esteemed alumni. An early graduate is William Wilberforce Still, the son of abolitionist William Still, who became a lawyer.

Benjamin Banneker Institute Established

September 27, 1854

William Catto, William Still and others form the Banneker Institute for “improving mental faculties”. The Institute, named to honor Benjamin Banneker, was an elite literary association. It became an important forum for discussion and political activism among men in Philadelphia’s black community. OV Catto, like many of his friends, joined their father as a member, when they graduated from ICY.

Negro Convention in Philadelphia

September 27, 1855

Negro Convention of black men held in Philadelphia.

Jane Johnson Rescue

September 27, 1855

William Still and white abolitionist Passmore Williamson rescue Jane Johnson and her children and help her take the Camden ferry out of Philadelphia to freedom. Williamson is incarcerated for several months for not bringing Johnson to court. The case becomes a national news story that continued from August to November. It was a national tipping point over slavery.

Wilberforce University Founded

September 27, 1856

Wilberforce University is founded in Ohio and is the first college owned and operated by African Americans. It is named to honor the British Abolitionist, William Wilberforce. Wilberforce was well-known among African Americans and much admired. William Still gave his oldest son “Wilberforce” as his middle name. William Wilberforce was also a member of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society.

Republican Party First Convention

September 27, 1856

The Republican Party holds its first convention in Philadelphia at Musical Fund Hall, located at 808 Locust Street. The convention approved an anti-slavery platform. Abraham Lincoln was on the ballot for Vice President, but William L. Dayton received the nomination.

Dred Scott Decision

September 27, 1857

The landmark United States Supreme Court ruling in the Dred Scott v. Sanford case declares that blacks, free or slave, have no citizenship rights. This was a major blow to Northern free blacks, especially in areas where they had been granted citizenship rights, including the right to vote. In most states voting was based on paying taxes. Consequently, the rights of middle class and elite blacks were being infringed.

Catto Completes the Institute for Colored Youth

September 27, 1859

After completing the rigorous course of study at ICY, O.V. Catto is hired as a teacher of English and mathematics at the school. He is also elected secretary of the Benjamin Banneker Institute.

John Brown’s Harper Ferry Raid

September 27, 1859

John Brown conducts a raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry to free and arm enslaved people. His effort fails and he is executed. Philadelphia blacks hold a vigil at Shiloh Baptist Church during his hanging, while black homes, business and some churches were draped in black. Southern medical students countered the actions of the black community by strutting through the city speaking about how many “niggers” they owned. Brown’s body traveled through Philadelphia under cover on its way back to New York, due to concerns about violence by pro-slavery factions in the city. Many of Catto’s personal connections had close ties with John Brown, among them Thomas Dorsey and Ebenezer Bassett, who was identified in a letter John Brown carried in a letter in his vest pocket at his hanging.

Catto Speaks Up

September 27, 1859

O.V. Catto is among the Banneker Society young men who began holding more of their discussions of issues of the day in “the public square”, including outside of Independence Hall, instead of in meeting halls. In Catto’s world, John Brown died in service of his country. Their speech reflected this belief.

Abraham Lincoln Elected President

September 27, 1860

Abraham Lincoln is elected president and Southern states secede from the Union. The Civil War begins when Confederates fire on Fort Sumter.

Fannie Jackson Enters Oberlin

September 27, 1860

Fannie Jackson (Coppin) enters Oberlin College. This step positions her for her career at the Institute for Colored Youth.

Civil War Begins

September 27, 1861

The American Civil War begins, when Confederate forces attack Fort Sumter in South Carolina.

Contrabands Enlistments

September 27, 1861

The U.S. Secretary of the Navy authorizes the enlistment of contrabands (enslaved people) taken in Confederate territories. More than a half million enslaved and freedmen sought protection behind Union lines.

Octavius Catto on Lombard Street

September 27, 1861

Sometime this year, Catto moves to the 800 block of Lombard Street in a boarding house, establishing an independent life from his family. He remains at the boarding house until his death in 1871.

Sanitary Commission Formed

September 27, 1861

The U.S. Sanitary Commission (USSC) is formed to raise money and materiel to improve conditions for soldiers on the battlefield and to support hospitals caring for the wounded. Philadelphia established a branch of the USSC, which acted as a regional center and depot for distributing resources. In Pennsylvania, women formed their own subsidiary, which served as a conduit for receiving donations from hundreds of smaller, local aid societies. The largest and most successful of the Sanitary Commission fundraising activities was the Great Central Fair, held at Logan Square from June 7 to June 28, 1864. President Abraham Lincoln, accompanied by wife Mary and son Todd, visited the Great Central Fair on June 16, 1864. African Americans generally were excluded from participating in USSC activities. Black congregations and women’s groups channeled support to the U.S. Colored Troops and other Union soldiers. Among the young black women spearheading this effort was Caroline LeCount, who became OV Catto’s fiance. LeCount is best known for her efforts to desegregate streetcars in Philadelphia, which were especially needed by black women working to get supplies to USCT soldiers at Camp William Penn in Cheltenhelm (outside Philadelphia) in 1863.

First Black Union Forces Organized

September 27, 1862

The first black Union Army forces are organized in South Carolina.

Charlotte Forten at Port Royal

September 27, 1862

Charlotte Forten, daughter of Robert Forten and Robert Purvis’ niece, heads to Port Royal, South Carolina as a teacher for the Philadelphia Port Royal Commission. The Atlantic Monthly publishes her essays on her experiences, Life on the Sea Islands, in 1864. Charlotte is the granddaughter of sailmaker, James Forten, who amassed one of the largest fortunes in Philadelphia of his times.

Emancipation Proclamation Issued

September 27, 1863

President Lincoln issues Emancipation Proclamation which frees nearly 4 million enslaved people in Confederate territories. The proclamation also issued orders to enlist black volunteers for three years, enabling the creation of the United States Colored Troops (USCT).

Pennsylvania Rejects Black Volunteers

September 27, 1863

In June, in response to an emergency of encroaching Confederates in Pennsylvania, Catto and Jacob White, Jr. form a military unit of ninety volunteers, most ICY students, to defend Harrisburg, PA. Major General Darius Couch sent them back to Philadelphia, stating they were not “enlisting” for three years.

Bureau of Colored Troops Formed

September 27, 1863

The United States War Department issues General Order Number 143 on May 22, 1863, establishing a “Bureau of Colored Troops” to facilitate the recruitment of African-American soldiers to fight for the Union Army.

Massachusetts 54th Organized

September 27, 1863

The 54th Massachusetts is organized. Free blacks throughout the North enlist in the 54th. The largest group are Pennsylvanians. Other training stations, like Camp William Penn, outside of Philadelphia are later established. Between 178,000 and 200,00 black men enlisted and white officers served under the Bureau of Colored Troops.

USCT Recruitment Office Opens in Philadelphia

September 27, 1863

The USCT recruitment offices open at 1210 Chestnut Street. The site is originally the headquarters and recruiting station of The Supervisory Committee for the Enlistment of Colored Troops and later for The Free Military School for Applicants for the Command of Colored Troops, seeking white officers. The temporary Union League clubhouse is three doors at 1216 Chestnut Street. The Union League worked in concert with black leaders such as Frederick Douglass, Robert Purvis, William and O.V. Catto, Jacob White, John Pierre Burr, and William Still to recruit black soldiers.

USCT 24th Regimental Flag Presented

September 27, 1863

Catto presents the USCT 24th Regiment with its regimental flag, designed by artist David Bustill Bowser, at a ceremony at the PA State House (Independence Hall). The motto inscribed on the flag, “Let Soldiers in War Be Citizens in Peaceʺ, reflects African American aspirations for citizenship rights and equality.

National Equal Rights League Convenes

September 27, 1863

The National Equal Rights League, formed by John Mercer Langston and including Frederick Douglass, Henry Highland Garnett and O.V. Catto, convenes in Syracuse, New York. The League worked through state level chapters. Catto became secretary of the Pennsylvania chapter in 1864. The Pennsylvania chapter was the largest within the League.

Catto Joins St. Thomas Church

September 27, 1863

Catto joins St. Thomas African Episcopal Church and later serves as a vestryman. St. Thomas parishioners were among some of the most strident abolitionists and civil rights activists within the Philadelphia black community. The church membership also included many faculty members at the Institute for Colored Youth, as well as members of the Pythian base ball club.

Gettysburg Address

September 27, 1863

One of the best known speeches in American History, Lincoln delivered it on November 19, 1863. Lincoln’s speech lasted only about 2 minutes. In it he reiterated the ideals for human equality in the Declaration of Independence and reinforced that the Civil War was being fought to keep the Union together with “a new birth of freedom” for all citizens. Many historians see this speech marking what was to be known as “America’s Second Founding.”

Public Transit Desegregation

September 27, 1865

With Caroline LeCount and other Philadelphia black women and men, Catto work more aggressively to desegregate Philadelphia’s trolley car system resulting in a state law to end segregated trolleys. Catto, himself, sat in a trolley car all night and eventually attracted a crowd, and brought African Americans one-step closer to achieving desegregated transportation. A meeting was held in Samson Street Hall, June 21, 1866, to protest the treatment of African American women and children and to demand more respect and justice for the African Americans. A speech given by Catto explained the ways in which African Americans have given to America and expressed that they should be given equal rights to transportation, but also equal rights in general. William Still and Catto moved the desgregation debate to Harrisburg to the state legislature. This effort was supported by Pennsylvania politicians, Thaddeus Stephens and William Kelly, as well as the Union League. Pennsylvania opened the streetcars to all in March 1867.

Fannie Jackson Arrives at Institute for Colored Youth

September 27, 1865

At age 28, Fannie Jackson graduates Oberlin with a collegiate degree in teaching and accepts a teaching position at the Institute for Colored Youth, where she taught Greek, Latin and Mathematics in the female division.

Robert E. Lee Surrenders

September 27, 1865

Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrenders to General Ulysses S. Grant, ending the Civil War.

13th Amendment Ends Slavery

September 27, 1865

On April 8th, the Thirteenth Amendment passes the U.S. Senate, ending slavery. It is ratified by the states on December 6th.

Lincoln Assassination

September 27, 1865

Abraham Lincoln is assassinated on April 14th. His body laid in state at Independence Hall, where throngs of citizens, black and white, paid homage to him. Catto was among the leaders who paraded at Independence Hall to mourn Lincoln. Lincoln’s funeral in Philadelphia is the largest public funeral held in the city.

Pythian Base Ball Club Formed

September 27, 1865

Catto pioneers the racial shift in baseball by forming the Pythian Baseball club, an amateur team made up of black business and middle-class professional men from the Washington, Philadelphia, New Jersey, and New York regions. The effort was supported by the Knights of Pythias fraternal organization and its Philadelphia founding member William Still. (The fraternal order was the first to be authorized by Congress and the charter was granted by Abraham Lincoln.) The team dissolved at Catto’s death in 1871. A new Pythians team with professional players was organized in 1887 as part of the National Colored Baseball League.

Freedmen’s Bureau Established

September 27, 1865

The Freedmen’s Bureau is established by the War Department with the purpose of supervising relief and educational activities relating to the refugees and freedmen. Many ICY students joined the cadre of people working in the North and the South to support the freedmen. Many are teachers. Others, like Catto, also work on the political front.

Freedmen’s Bank Chartered

September 27, 1865

The Freedmen’s Bank is chartered by the federal government as a private corporation. By 1866, the bank had established 19 branches in 12 states. The Philadelphia office, operated by William Whipper, became one of the most successful operations. It attracted a large number of societies, churches, charities, other private organizations and individuals, who opened accounts and established trusts with the company. O.V. Catto is listed as the 6th person to open an account at the Philadelphia office. The bank served as both an important symbol of black self-determination and a means for the black community to build economic wealth through savings, particularly in the South following the economic devastation of the Civil War and the poor economic condition of the formerly enslaved.

Catto Joins PA National Guard

September 27, 1866

After the Civil War, Catto joins the Pennsylvania National Guard’s 5th Brigade at the invitation of the Brigade Commander, General Louis Wagner. Catto was promoted to Brigade Inspector General with the rank of Major, making him the highest ranking African-American in the military services at that time. His role was to inspect the troops, while riding on horseback. It is said that Catto was a very capable horseman.

Civil Rights Act of 1866

September 27, 1866

Congress passes the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the first federal law protecting the rights of African Americans. It is vetoed by President Andrew Johnson.  Johnson’s veto is overridden by Congress. The law solidified an alliance based on “principles” among moderate and radical Republicans, which in the coming years would lead to Constitutional changes defining citizenship and the rights of citizens for blacks. Republicans gain veto proof majorities in the Senate and House to override President Johnson’s vetoes.

Morton McMichael Elected Mayor

September 27, 1866

Morton McMichael is elected the first Republican mayor of Philadelphia and supports efforts to enlarge civil rights and liberties for blacks. McMichael was a founding member of the Union League and its fourth president.

Black Codes Enacted

September 27, 1866

Mississippi becomes the first of the former Confederate states to enact Black Codes, severely limiting the rights and liberties of blacks. It is the first immediate resistance reaction by southern whites. Other southern states soon follow.

Klu Klux Klan Formed

September 27, 1866

The Ku Klux Klan is formed by ex-Confederates in Pulaski, Tennessee.

Fisk University Established

September 27, 1866

Fisk University (Tennessee) is established for former enslaved people by the American Missionary Association and becomes the first black American college to receive a class “A” rating from the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools in 1878. DuBois graduated from Fisk in 1888.

First African American Mummers Clubs Formed

September 27, 1866

The Golden Eagle Club, the first African American mummers club in Philadelphia, is formed and had 300 members in the 1906 Mummers’ Parade. Mummery was a pasttime that interested blacks and several clubs were formed. However, over time the level of participation greatly diminished due to discriminatory practices in judging. The Octavius Catto Club, named for Catto after his death, was the last club to participate. It withdrew after the 1929 parade, when the judges ranked its performance last.

Republican Election Victories

September 27, 1867

In elections across the nation, where blacks are granted the franchise, the Republican Party wins victories.

Howard University Chartered

September 27, 1867

Congress charters Howard University. It opened as a nonsectarian school, admitting both sexes and all races. It became a premier institution and played an important role in America’s civil rights history. It is here that Thurgood Marshall, as a student of Charles Hamiton Houston, earned his law degree in 1933, graduating first in his class.

14th Amendment Ratified

September 27, 1868

The Fourteenth Amendment is ratified, granting citizenship to any person born or naturalized in the United States. This established the precedent of “birth right citizenship”.

W.E.B. DuBois is Born

September 27, 1868

W.E.B. DuBois is born. After completion of his doctorate at Harvard in 1896, he came to Philadelphia and did the landmark study, The Philadelphia Negro, where he paid homage to O.V. Catto. He also exposed the deep poverty within the black community. DuBois’ Pan African philosophy was inspired by Alexander Crummell, whom DuBois paid tribute to in Chapter 12 of Souls of Black Folks. Among DuBois’ significant work was serving as editor of The Crisis magazine by the NAACP.

Hampton Institute Founded

September 27, 1868

Hampton Institute is founded by black and white leaders of the American Missionary Association to provide education to freedmen. In 1878 training for Native Americans was added and continued until 1923.

National Convention of Colored Men Meets

September 27, 1869

The National Convention of Colored Men meets in Washington, D.C., promoting that the franchise and other privileges of citizenship be extended to black men in northern areas.

Pennsylvania Equal Rights League Pushes 15th Amendment Ratification

September 27, 1869

Through the Equal Rights League, Catto works on Pennsylvania’s ratification of the 15th Amendment, which prohibits discrimination against male citizens in registration and voting based on race, color or prior condition.

Louisiana Sends First Black Legislators to Congress

September 27, 1869

Louisiana sends the first black legislators to Congress.

Ebenezer Bassett, Minister to Haiti

September 27, 1869

Ebenezer Bassett steps down as ICY principal, receiving an appointment from President Grant to be minister of Haiti. The minister position was the highest-ranking position at that time held by a black man in the federal government.

Fannie Jackson Becomes ICY Principal

September 27, 1869

Fannie Jackson replaces Bassett as ICY principal and begins a 37-year distinguished career. She is the first black women to be named a school principal in the U.S. In granting her the principal appointment, ICY Board of Managers noted her holding a college degree, which Catto did not have. Catto becomes head of the ICY boy’s division and Richard Greener, the first African American to graduate Harvard with a college degree, is named assistant principal of the boy’s division, when Catto goes on leave to work in DC on curriculum for newly formed black schools. Greener became head of the boy’s division after Catto’s assassination. He later was appointed dean of Howard Law School.

Professional Baseball Starts

September 27, 1869

First professional baseball team forms.

Catto Forges Black Schools in D.C.

September 27, 1869

Catto takes a one month leave of absence from ICY to work on curriculum for black schools in Washington, D.C. He was received with great enthusiasm. Many working in the schools are former ICY students. Among the beneficiaries of Catto’s work is the M Street School (later renamed Dunbar High School), which became the premier black high school in the nation.

15th Amendment Ratified

September 27, 1870

Fifteenth Amendment is ratified, granting voting rights to males of all races.

Black Franchise Begins in Pennsylvania

September 27, 1870

The first election where black males can vote is held in Pennsylvania. In Philadelphia, federal troops provide protection for black voters under the Federal Enforcement Act. No violence occurs.

Catto Assassination

September 27, 1871

Catto is one of four black men murdered in election day riots, violent attempts to suppress the black vote and keep Democrats in power in Philadelphia. Numerous others were beaten and shot. There was no federal presence at this election. Prior to being shot, Catto was seeking to activate his Pennsylvania Reserve unit to provide protection to black voters.

Catto In Memoriam

September 27, 1871

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.


Carter G. Woodson Born

September 28, 1875

Carter G. Woodson, known today as “the father of black history”, is born. Woods earned his PhD at Harvard. He spent his early career as a teacher at the M Street School (later Dunbar High School), where Catto developed the academic curriculum in 1870. Woodson joined the faculty at Howard University and later became Dean of Arts and Sciences. Historian, author, journalist and founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Woodson is one of the first scholars to study African American history. He produced many books and was editor of the Journal of Negro History which began in 1915.  His home in Washington, D.C. is today a national heritage site.

The Centennial Exhibition

September 28, 1876

The Centennial International Exhibition of 1876, the first official World’s Fair in the United States, was held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, from May 10 to November 10, 1876, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia. African Americans were largely left out of the exhibitions and marginalized. Among the exceptions are a marble bust of Richard Allen, commissioned through the efforts of Benjamin Tanner and the sculpture The Death of Cleopatra by Mary Edmonia Lewis, a classmate of Francis Jackson at Oberlin and the first African American to achieve international fame in fine arts.

Federal Troops Withdraw from the South

September 28, 1877

The last federal troops are withdrawn from the South, marking the end of Reconstruction.

Frank Kelly’s Trial for O.V. Catto’s Murder

September 28, 1877

Six years after Catto’s assassination, Frank Kelly was tried in Philadelphia for his murder. Kelly eluded capture for over six years with the help of friends. There was competing testimony at the trial. Eventually an all white jury found Kelly not guilty.

Southern Blacks Migrate North

September 28, 1877

Black migration into Philadelphia from southern areas increases the black population over 43%. By 1920, the population grew from 22,147 in 1870 to 134,459, further straining racial tensions in the city as blacks moved beyond the 7th Ward.

Pennsylvania Schools Legally End Segregation

September 28, 1881

Pennsylvania ends segregation in its schools, although most schools remain segregated. School attendance was based on neighborhoods. Separate black schools or classrooms were created as black attendance rose. Also, school system practices created segregated environments as more and more black and some immigrant students were pushed into industrial education curriculums, based on perceived “retardation”.

Tuskegee Founded

September 28, 1881

Tuskegee is founded as a normal school to train teachers and Booker T. Washington is hired as principal. In 1891 Halle Tanner Dillion (Johnson), Benjamin Tanner’s eldest daughter, is hired as the school’s medical doctor and teacher, teaching two classes a day. She just finished her medical training at Women’s Medical College. During her tenure at Tuskegee, she was responsible for the health care of the school’s 450 students and 30 faculty and staff. She also established a training school for nurses and founded the Lafayette Dispensary to serve the health care needs of local residents, often mixing medicines herself for their use. Halle and Tuskegee are representative of the subsequent generations of African Americans and institutions that benefited from educational foundations built by Catto.

Philadelphia Tribune Founded

September 28, 1884

The Philadelphia Tribune is established by Christopher J. Perry. It becomes the oldest continuously operated African American newspaper in the nation, addressing the issues of the black community in the Greater Philadelphia area.

Marcus Garvey Born

September 28, 1887

Marcus Garvey is born in Jamaica. In 1914, he establishes the Universal Negro Improvement Association and opens an office in Philadelphia in 1919. His Pan-African and black nationalist philosophy was inspired by Alexander Crummell.

A. Phillip Randolph Born

September 28, 1889

A. Phillip Randolph is born. He led the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in a successful national effort that gained improved employment conditions and higher wages for the car porters. The porter labor movement was the backbone for building the black middle class and became a force in producing the modern Civil Rights Movement with its early “March on Washington” campaigns. This latter work was accomplished with the aid of local Brotherhood Women’s Auxiliaries in major cities, including Philadelphia, and in alliance with Baynard Rustin from West Chester, Pennsylvania (outside of Philadelphia) and a graduate of Cheyney University. In 1956 Baynard became an important ally and supporter to Dr. Martin Luther and brought the tactics he learned working for the Brotherhood to King’s efforts. Baynard is the unrecognized genius behind the 1963 March on Washington, as were the women, who were the  troops on the ground, executing the strategy.

Ida B. Wells Begins Anti-Lynching Campaign

September 28, 1892

Ida B. Wells begins her anti-lynching campaign. Born in 1862, Wells spent considerable time on her lecture circuit in Philadelphia working on her anti-lynching campaign and forging alliances in the black community. This year, while in Philadelphia, her office at the Free Speech and Headlight was destroyed by a white mob, seeking to intimidate her. Lynchings of both black men and women in the United States rose in number after the Civil War, following the emancipation. It is estimated that over 3,445 blacks were lynched between 1882 and 1965 with most occurring before 1937. Lynchings also began appearing in the North during the Great Migration of blacks into Northern areas.  Among these was the lynching of Zachariah Walker in 1911 in Coatesville, just outside of Philadelphia. Walker’s lynching was a “spectacle lynching”, witnessed by nearly 5,000 people. The political message was the promotion of white supremacy and black powerlessness. An important element of the ritual included photographing and publishing lynchings that were sold as popular souvenirs throughout the U.S.

Expansion of Nativist and Anti-Black Groups

September 28, 1893

Nativist and anti-black organizations in the form of the American Protective Association and the Ku Klux Klan spread. Their vision was to preserve and protect America for Anglo-Saxons. They used various forms of force and intimidation against blacks, including lynching.

Erection of Confederate Monuments

September 28, 1893

The erection of hundreds of Confederate memorials begins aggressively throughout the South and in some Northern cities, peaking in the early 1920’s. The second big surge of monument erections happened with the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board decision, as part of the white resistance movement. Today there are over 1,500 Confederate monuments on public land and numerous schools and public buildings names for Confederates.

Charles Hamilton Houston Born

September 28, 1895

Charles Hamilton Houston is born and became a graduate of the M Street School in DC. He completed Harvard Law, became dean of Howard University Law School and trained Thurgood Marshall and others to be activist attorneys. He left Howard and established the NAACP Legal Defense group, later led by Marshall. Houston is known as “The man who killed Jim Crow.”

Black Voters in Philadelphia

September 28, 1896

Philadelphia blacks are 4% of registered voters, but represent over 24% of the population. Most are registered Republican.

Supreme Court Codifies “Separate but Equal”

September 28, 1896

The U.S. Supreme Court codifies the doctrine of “separate, but equal” (Jim Crow) with the Plessy v. Ferguson decision. Justice John Marshall Harlan was the lone dissenter.

The Philadelphia Negro Study

December 18, 1896

W.E. B. DuBois begins his seminal study of Philadelphia’s black community in the 7th Ward, The Philadelphia Negro.  He exposed how the city’s Republican machine doled out offices and bribes to blacks, but did little to improve conditions in the Ward.  His study detailed the deplorable conditions blacks faced in the city.  DuBois also interviewed individuals, who knew Catto.  These individuals spoke to Catto’s lasting meaning to the black community, some twenty-five years after his assassination.  DuBois included the Catto story in The Philadelphia Negro.

Spanish American War

September 28, 1898

Over 3,000 African American served in the War. Among these were the 250 naval personnel killed on the Maine as well as the Buffalo Soldiers, supporting the Rough Riders, that charged up San Juan Hill.

Sadie Tanner Alexander Born

September 28, 1898

Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander is born. Her family were members of the “Old Philadelphia” group of African Americans, who made the city a center for educated blacks since the antebellum era. Sadie is the first black women to earn a doctorate in Law, following a degree in Economics at the University of Pennsylvania. She was also a graduate of the M Street School (Dunbar High School). Sadie dedicated her life to civil rights work, including completing a ground-breaking study on the condition of black migrants in the Philadelphia region and serving on presidential commissions on race for Truman and JFK. She married Raymond Pace Alexander who served as a lead attorney in the legal suit to end segregation at Girard College.

Lincoln Steffen’s Philadelphia Expose Published

September 28, 1903

Lincoln Steffens’ expose “Philadelphia: Corrupt and Contented”, the fifth of a series of articles on municipal corruption, is published. He calls Philadelphia “the worst-governed city the country” because of the level of corruption and civic complacency.

O.V. Catto Elk Lodge Named

September 28, 1903

The Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks of the World (IBPOEW), black Elks, in Philadelphia opens the O.V. Catto Lodge. The Lodge continues today.

Niagara Movement Begins

September 28, 1905

Niagara Movement, led by W.E.B DuBois and Monroe Trotter, begins with its first meeting at Niagara Falls. The Niagara Movement was a call for opposition to racial segregation and disenfranchisement, and it was opposed to policies of accommodation and conciliation promoted by African-American leaders such as Booker T. Washington.

Armstrong Association Formed

September 28, 1908

The Armstrong Association is formed in NYC and opens an office in Philadelphia. At the Thomas Durham public school at 16th and Lombard, it operates a center focused on job placement and training. The organization later becomes the Urban League.

Thurgood Marshall Born

September 28, 1908

Thurgood Marshall is born. He would become the leading civil rights lawyer for the NAACP.

NAACP is Established

September 28, 1909

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People established in response to the Springfield Race Riots in 1908. A few years later an official office is opened in Philadelphia.

First Black Elected Office in PA Legislature

September 28, 1910

Thirty-nine years after Catto’s death, Harry Bass becomes the first Philadelphia black elected official in the Pennsylvania Legislature. Opportunities for blacks to hold political offices were determined by political bosses.

National Urban League Formed

September 28, 1910

The National League on Urban Conditions of the American Negro, known as the Urban League, is formed in NYC. The Philadelphia office opens in 1917 in response to the growing challenges faced by the increasing black population in the city.

The Crisis Magazine Published

September 28, 1910

The Crisis magazine is founded with W.E. B. DuBois as editor. Its purpose was to “set forth those facts and arguments which show the danger of race prejudice, particularly manifested today toward colored people.” The journal was an important catalyst during the Harlem Renaissance movement. Many of the movement’s best-known writers were published in the magazine.

Coatesville (PA) Lynching

September 28, 1911

Zachariah Walker, a black steel worker in Coatesville, PA (in Chester County, just outside of Philadelphia) is lynched, while a crowd of estimated up to 5,000 men, women and children watched. Against local opposition, 15 white males were charged and tried; however, none were convicted. A large crowd outside of the court room cheered, as an all white jury delivered the verdict.

Anti-Lynching Forces Mobilized in PA

September 28, 1911

The Walker lynching mobilized efforts that begin the Pennsylvania General Assembly’s consideration of an anti-lynching law in 1913. However, it took 10 years before a law is enacted in 1921.

Black Rural Schools Construction

September 28, 1912

In partnership with Booker T. Washington, Julius Rosenwald, a part owner in Sears and Roebuck, begins creating model rural schools for blacks and also stimulated the construction of new public schools in the South. Believing that the lack of education opportunity was the major crisis for blacks in the U.S., together they created more than 5,000 community schools into the 1930’s. Many of these schools became places where ICY  (Cheyney) graduates taught. Down the road many of these schools were embroiled in civil rights efforts to equalize education between blacks and white.

Jim Crow Expands

September 28, 1913

Jim Crow laws and practices are further expanded throughout the United States with the election of Woodrow Wilson. This included policies that expanded segregation in the federal government. Numerous black federal civil servants were removed from their jobs across the country.

Woodrow Wilson Segregates Federal Government

September 28, 1914

Woodrow Wilson threw civil rights leader William Monroe Trotter out of the White House. Trotter had led a delegation of blacks to meet with the president to discuss the surge of segregation in the country. Wilson was unsympathic. During his tenure as President, Wilson expanded segregation in federal office, which included the removal of well-educated blacks from federal jobs they long held for years.  Among them was Daniel Alexander Payne Murray, assistant librarian of Congress, who had joined the Library’s professional staff in 1871.

Birth of a Nation Screened at the White House

September 28, 1915

The film Birth of a Nation, based on Thomas Dixon’s play and novel, The Clansman, is screened at the White House for the President, his cabinet and members of their families. This marked the first such event at the White House.

America Enters World War 1

September 28, 1917

The war became a transformative time for African Americans with revoluntionary impacts on them politically, socially and ecomonically. War time opportunities gave hope to blacks, especially in the urban North. War time service also strengthened black resolve in their demands for equality and opportunity.

Anti-Violence March in NYC

September 28, 1917

A “Silent Parade” of 10,000 African Americans from across the country marched down 5th Avenue in NYC in protest against murders, lynchings and other violence directed towards blacks.

Anti-Black Riots Nationwide

September 28, 1919

From the summer through early fall, anti-black riots take place in more than three dozen places across the country. The anti-black riots resulted from post-World War I tensions over competition for jobs and housing. The time was coined the “Red Summer”, because it was so bloody. Philadelphia had riots on July 31. The highest fatality occured in rural Elaine, Arkansas where 240 blacks were killed.

William T. Coleman, Jr.

September 28, 1920

Philadelphian William Coleman is born.  He becomes a leading civil rights activist, serving as an advisor to Thurgood Marshall in preparing arguments and strategy for the Brown v. Board case.  After graduating from Harvard Law, he was the first African American to clerk at the Supreme Court. He broke racial barriers throughout his career, served as an advisor to presidents, and was the second African American to serve in a presidential cabinet. He was an advisor to Raymond Pace Alexander on the Girard College desegration case. He was told by his high school teacher that he should become a chauffeur.

KKK Chapters Opens in Philadelphia Region

September 28, 1921

The Ku Klux Klan opens official chapters in Philadelphia and Chester County, as well as in Trenton and Camden.

KKK Parades in Washington, D.C.

September 28, 1925

Over 35,000 Ku Klux Klansmen parade down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. DC.

Birth of the Harlem Renaissance

September 28, 1925

This year is used to mark the birth of the Harlem Renaissance, a cultural, social, and artistic explosion that took place in Harlem, New York, which actually spanned from about 1918 until the mid- 1930’s. During its time, it was known as the “New Negro Movement”, named after the 1925 anthology by Alaine Locke, son of Catto’s friend, Pliny Locke. The Movement also included new African-American cultural expressions across the urban areas in the Northeast and Midwest United States affected by the Great Migration of which Harlem was the largest. The cities of Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, Baltimore, Cleveland, and New York City saw some of the biggest population increases in the early part of the twentieth century.

Carter G. Woodson Launches Black History Week

September 28, 1926

Woodson’s effort represented the much needed work, identified by Benjamin Tanner (Catto’s close friend and ally) more than 50 years earlier, to show the important contributions that black people made to world civilizations. Woodson also contended that the teaching of this history “was essential to the physical and intellectual survival of the black race in society”. The Journal of Negro History was Carter’s main vehicle for disseminating African American heritage. By 1976, Black History Month was being celebrated all across the country in educational institutions, centers of Black culture and community centers, both great and small, when President Gerald Ford recognized Black History Month, during the U.S. Bicentennial. Ford urged all Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

Martin Luther King Born

September 28, 1929

Born January 15, 1929, King becomes the best known American civil rights icon of the 20th Century, advacing civil rights through non-violence and disobedience. His tactics were grounded in the Christian Social Gospel Movement and the non-violent activism of Mahatma Gandhi.

O.V. Catto descendants with sculptor Branly Cadet (2nd left) at Memorial dedication at City Hall, September 2018. Photo by Bill Z. Foster. The Philadelphia Sunday Sun.

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