Celebrating the life and times of the extraordinary Octavius Catto, and the first civil rights movement in America

This week, in North Philly Notes, we honor Octavius Valentine Catto, the subject of Daniel R. Biddle and Murray Dubin’s majestic biography, Tasting Freedom. Catto is being honored with a statue that will be unveiled on the apron of Philadelphia’s City Hall on September 26 at 11:00 am. 

A video interview with the authors of Tasting Freedom

 

A Q&A with the authors of Tasting Freedom

Q: Octavius Catto was a pioneer of the Civil Rights movement in the Civil War era. Where did you hear about him, why is he so little known, and what prompted you to write his life and times?
A: Murray discovered him in 1993 while doing research for a book he was writing on the history of South Philadelphia. Dan heard a historian talking on the radio about black life in the city in the 19th century and discussing Catto. Catto is little known because he died so young, before he had a chance to become prominent on the national scene. We both thought his life was extraordinary.

Q: How and where did you do your research? What surprises did you discover?
A: We did our research in Pennsylvania, New York, Washington D.C., South Carolina and New Jersey in churches, college reading rooms, and the Library of Congress. We scoured diaries, letters, newspapers, census records, box scores and song sheets in an effort that took more than seven years. We didn’t realize until more than a year into the work that there was a civil rights movement in the 19th century.

Q: Tasting Freedom provides an extensive history of the Civil War era and how African Americans faced racism on the baseball field, on streetcars, as voters, in the military etc. How did Catto and his “band of brothers” combat this discrimination?
A: He and his contemporaries in the North needed to fight for many rights that whites took for granted. Their weapons were their organizing skills to mold public opinion and educate whites, exemplary public behavior, bravery on the Civil War battlefield and physical courage in the face of threats and bodily harm to integrate the streetcars.

Q: Catto taught at the Institute for Colored Youth. He was very instrumental in educating free slaves and helping them get established. His famous speech at a graduation begins, “There Must Come a Change!” It started as a history of the school and ended with a call for equal rights. It had an immediate impact and was reprinted and circulated widely. How far-reaching was his speech?
A: The Institute for Colored Youth sent more teachers South to teach freed slaves and their children than any other school in the nation. It’s clear that I.C.Y. students were listening to Catto.

Q: Catto’s story intersects with historical figures such as the “feminist”/abolitionist Lucretia Mott, and famous orators like Frederick Douglass, with whom he shared stages. How did Catto establish himself in Philadelphia society and make the social/political connections he did?
A: Catto was a prominent educator who ran the boys school at the Institute for Colored Youth, the best school for black youth in the city, and arguably the best school for youth of any color. That elevated him to an important role in the community. He was a charismatic speaker who was the son of a well-known clergyman. Active in civil rights activities in his 20s, he fought the same battles that Douglass and Mott were fighting. And he was a rising Republican leader in the black community.

Tasting Freedom_AD(12-16-09) finalQ: Tasting Freedom has a terrific chapter about baseball and Catto’s experiences with the Pythians. Unable to integrate baseball, interracial matches were played unofficially with Catto’s team playing in the first game between white and black clubs. Did he have the respect of whites, or did he have a negative reputation?
A: The Philadelphia Athletics, the top white team in the city in the 1860s, permitted the Pythians to play on the Athletics’ field and were supporters of Catto’s effort to compete against white teams. It was not uncommon to see white ballplayers in the stands watching Pythian games.

Q: The chapter on the battle for streetcars shows Catto’s strength as an agitator. He tried to change laws. What do you think he could have accomplished had his life not been cut short?
A: That’s the question we wish we could answer. But we’ll try: We believe he would run for public office locally and won, and then would have sought higher office in the state. We also believe he might have received an appointment by the President to represent the United States overseas in a diplomatic position. And we think he may have left Philadelphia at some point to run his own school, perhaps in the South.

Q: You provide detailed descriptions of Catto’s enemies and the reaction to his death and its aftermath. How great was the riot that occurred?
A: Catto was shot to death in an 1871 election-day riot in Philadelphia that was one of the worst days of violence that the city had ever seen. We described the riot in the book as “five blocks in one direction and three in the other.” Scores of black men were shot and beaten and an untold number were scared away from the polls.

Q: You end Tasting Freedom with an epilogue on Catto’s legacy. How do you measure Catto’s contribution to history?
A: Influence is difficult to measure. We know that W.E.B. Du Bois knew about Catto because he wrote about him in “The Philadelphia Negro.” And we know that black leaders in the early 20th century read Du Bois. So it makes sense to say that Catto’s life was known to the black men and women who began the NAACP and who led the Harlem Renaissance. We also know students that Catto taught became civil rights leaders in the South and went on to teach black students across the nation.

Q: So what are two white guys doing writing about African American history?
A: We are newspaper guys and what we care about our good stories. The story of Catto’s life is a great story that no one has ever told. Even more important is the story of the civil rights movement in the 19th century, which has been little told. We thought that putting the two together would be a great yarn.

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Temple University Press’ Fall 2017 Catalog

This week in North Philly Notes, we showcase the books from Temple University Press’s Fall 2017 Catalog.

“A Road to Peace and Freedom”

“A Road to Peace and Freedom”
The International Workers Order and the Struggle for Economic Justice and Civil Rights, 1930–1954

Zecker, Robert M.

The history of the International Workers Order’s struggle to enact a social-democratic, racially egalitarian vision for America

430 pp • 6×9 • Fall 2017
paper 978-1-4399-1516-5
cloth 978-1-4399-1515-8

Against Capital in the Twenty-First Century

Against Capital in the Twenty-First Century
A Reader of Radical Undercurrents
Edited by Asimakopoulos, John and Richard Gilman-Opalsky

A broad, nonsectarian collection of anti-capitalist thinking, featuring landmark contributions both classic and contemporary

390 pp • 6×9 • Fall 2017
paper 978-1-4399-1358-1
cloth 978-1-4399-1357-4

Against the Deportation Terror

Against the Deportation Terror
Organizing for Immigrant Rights in the Twentieth Century

Buff, Rachel Ida

Reveals the formerly little-known history of multiracial immigrant rights organizing in the United States

382 pp • 6×9 • Fall 2017
paper 978-1-4399-1534-9
cloth 978-1-4399-1533-2

Believing in Cleveland

Believing in Cleveland
Managing Decline in “The Best Location in the Nation”

Souther, J. Mark

Do reforms that decentralize the state actually empower women?

210 pp • 6×9 • Fall 2017
paper 978-1-4399-1397-0
cloth 978-1-4399-1396-3

Biz Mackey, a Giant behind the Plate

Biz Mackey, a Giant behind the Plate
The Story of the Negro League Star and Hall of Fame Catcher
Westcott, Rich
Forewords by Monte Irvin and Ray Mackey III

The first biography of arguably the greatest catcher in the Negro Leagues

160 pp • 5.375×8.5 • Fall 2017
cloth 978-1-4399-1551-6

Communities and Crime

Communities and Crime
An Enduring American Challenge

Wilcox, Pamela, Francis T. Cullen, and Ben Feldmey

A systematic exploration of how criminology has accounted for the role of community over the past century

282 pp • 6×9 • Fall 2017
paper 978-1-59213-974-3
cloth 978-1-59213-973-6

The Cost of Being a Girl

The Cost of Being a Girl
Working Teens and the Origins of the Gender Wage Gap

Besen-Cassino, Yasemin

Traces the origins of the gender wage gap to part-time teenage work, which sets up a dynamic that persists into adulthood

238 pp • 6×9 • Fall 2017
paper 978-1-4399-1349-9
cloth 978-1-4399-1348-2

Exploiting the Wilderness

Exploiting the Wilderness
An Analysis of Wildlife Crime

Warchol, Greg L.

A contemporary criminological analysis of the African and Asian illegal trade in wildlife


208 pp • 6×9 • Fall 2017
paper 978-1-4399-1367-3
cloth 978-1-4399-1366-6

From Slave Ship to Supermax

From Slave Ship to Supermax
Mass Incarceration, Prisoner Abuse, and the New Neo-Slave Novel

Alexander, Patrick Elliot

The first interdisciplinary study of mass incarceration to intersect the fields of literary studies, critical prison studies, and human rights

266 pp • 6×9 • Fall 2017
paper 978-1-4399-1415-1
cloth 978-1-4399-1414-4

Latino Mayors

Latino Mayors
Political Change in the Postindustrial City
Edited by Orr, Marion and Domingo Morel
With a Foreword by Luis Ricardo Fraga

The first book to examine the rise of Latino mayors in the United States

312 pp • 6×9 • Fall 2017
paper paper 978-1-4399-1543-1
cloth 978-1-4399-1542-4

Love

Love
A Philadelphia Affair

Kephart, Beth

From the best-selling author of Flow comes a love letter to the Philadelphia region, its places, and its people

New in Paperback!
176 pp • 5.5×8.5 • Fall 2017
paper 978-1-4399-1316-1
cloth 978-1-4399-1315-4

On the Stump

On the Stump
Campaign Oratory and Democracy in the United States, Britain, and Australia Scalmer, Sean

The story of how the “stump speech” was created, diffused, and helped to shape the modern democracies of the Anglo-American world

236 pp • 6×9 • Fall 2017
paper 978-1-4399-1504-2
cloth 978-1-4399-1503-5

Phil Jasner

Phil Jasner “On the Case”
His Best Writing on the Sixers, the Dream Team, and Beyond

Edited by Jasner, Andy

Three decades of reporting by famed Philadelphia Hall of Fame sportswriter Phil Jasner

264 pp • 6×9 • Fall 2017
cloth 978-1-4399-1494-6

Philadelphia

Philadelphia
Finding the Hidden City
Elliott, Joseph E. B., Nathaniel Popkin, and Peter Woodall

Revealing the physical and cultural intricacies of Philadelphia, from the intimate to the monumental

200 pp • 7.875×10.5 • Fall 2017
cloth 978-1-4399-1300-0

Rulers and Capital in Historical Perspective

Rulers and Capital in Historical Perspective
State Formation and Financial Development in India and the United States

Chatterjee, Abhishek

Explains the concomitant and interconnected emergence of “public” finance and “private” banking systems in the context of state formation in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries

188 pp • 5.5×8.25 • Fall 2017
cloth 978-1-4399-1500-4

Selling Transracial Adoption

Selling Transracial Adoption
Families, Markets, and the Color Line

Raleigh, Elizabeth

Examines cross-race adoptions from the perspectives of adoption providers, showing how racial hierarchies and the supply and demand for children shape the process

274 pp • 6×9 • Fall 2017
paper 978-1-4399-1478-6
cloth 978-1-4399-1477-9

Suffering and Sunset

Suffering and Sunset
World War I in the Art and Life of Horace Pippin

Bernier, Celeste-Marie

A majestic biography of the pioneering African American artist

New in Paperback!
552 pp • 6.125×9.25 • Fall 2017
paper 978-1-4399-1274-4
cloth 978-1-4399-1273-7

Tasting Freedom

Tasting Freedom
Octavius Catto and the Battle for Equality in Civil War America

Biddle, Daniel R. and Murray Dubin

Celebrating the life and times of the extraordinary Octavius Catto, and the first civil rights movement in America

New in Paperback!
632 pp • 6×9 • Fall 2017
paper 978-1-59213-466-3
cloth 978-1-59213-465-6

Toward a Pragmatist Sociology

Toward a Pragmatist Sociology
John Dewey and the Legacy of C. Wright Mills

Dunn, Robert G.

An original study that mines the work of John Dewey and C. Wright Mills to animate a more relevant and critical sociology

198 pp • 5.5×8.25 • Fall 2017
cloth 978-1-4399-1459-5

We Decide!

We Decide!
Theories and Cases in Participatory Democracy

Menser, Michael

Argues that democratic theory and practice needs to shift its focus from elections and representation to sharing power and property in government and the economy

360 pp • 6×9 • Fall 2017
paper 978-1-4399-1418-2
cloth 978-1-4399-1417-5

Why Veterans Run

Why Veterans Run
Military Service in American Presidential Elections, 1789–2016

Teigen, Jeremy M.

Why more than half of American presidential candidates have been military veterans—and why it matters

320 pp • 6×9 • Fall 2017
paper 978-1-4399-1436-6
cloth 978-1-4399-1435-9

Click here to download the catalog (pdf).

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