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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Remembering 9/11

On the 16th anniversary of September 11th, we offer a quartet of Temple University Press titles that put the 9/11 tragedy in context.

American Dunkirk_smAmerican Dunkirk: The Waterborne Evacuation of Manhattan on 9/11, by James Kendra and Tricia Wachtendorf; 

When the terrorist attacks struck New York City on September 11, 2001, boat operators and waterfront workers quickly realized that they had the skills, the equipment, and the opportunity to take definite, immediate action in responding to the most significant destructive event in the United States in decades. For many of them, they were “doing what needed to be done.”

American Dunkirk shows how people, many of whom were volunteers, mobilized rescue efforts in various improvised and spontaneous ways on that fateful date. Disaster experts James Kendra and Tricia Wachtendorf examine the efforts through fieldwork and interviews with many of the participants to understand the evacuation and its larger implications for the entire practice of disaster management.

The authors ultimately explore how people—as individuals, groups, and formal organizations—pull together to respond to and recover from startling, destructive events. American Dunkirk asks, What can these people and lessons teach us about not only surviving but thriving in the face of calamity?

History and September 11th edited by Joanne Meyerowitz; The contributors to this landmark collection set the attacks on the United States in historical perspective. They reject the simplistic notion of an age-old “clash of civilizations” and instead examine the particular histories of American nationalism, anti-Americanism, U.S. foreign policy, and Islamic fundamentalism among other topics. With renewed attention to Americans’ sense of national identity, they focus on the United States in relation to the rest of the world. A collection of recent and historical documents—speeches, articles, and book excerpts—supplement the essays. Taken together, the essays and sources in this volume comment on the dangers of seeing the events of September 11 as splitting the nation’s history into “before” and “after.” They argue eloquently that no useful understanding of the present is possible without an unobstructed view of the past.

Behind the Backlash: Muslim Americans after 9/11 by Lori Peek; As the nation tried to absorb the shock of the 9/11 attacks, Muslim Americans were caught up in an unprecedented wave of backlash violence. Public discussion revealed that widespread misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Islam persisted, despite the striking diversity of the Muslim community.
Letting the voices of 140 ordinary Muslim American men and women describe their experiences, Lori Peek’s path-breaking, award-winning book, Behind the Backlash presents moving accounts of prejudice and exclusion. Muslims speak of being subjected to harassment before the attacks, and recount the discrimination they encountered afterwards. Peek also explains the struggles of young Muslim adults to solidify their community and define their identity during a time of national crisis.

Abuse of Power: How Cold War Surveillance and Secrecy Policy Shaped the Response to 9/11 by Athan Theoharis; Theoharis, long a respected authority on surveillance and secrecy, shows that the events that occurred 11 years ago are still felt everyday by Americans in the sense of government security. Passionately argued, this timely book speaks to the costs and consequences of still-secret post-9/11 surveillance programs and counterintelligence failures. Ultimately, Abuse of Power makes the case that the abusive surveillance policies of the Cold War years were repeated in the government’s responses to the September 11 attacks.

Reckoning with Independence and Partition in India, 70 Years On

 

This week in North Philly Notes, Kavita Daiya, author of Violent Belongingswrites about participating in the inaugural panel of a landmark event held Aug 4-6, 2017 in Mumbai, India, called “Remembering Partition.” 

“Remembering Partition” revolved around the memories and legacies of the 1947 Partition of India during decolonization from British rule. The 1947 Partition was a unique event: within a span of nine months, the British decision to divide India left approximately two million dead and between 12 and 16 million people displaced. As India celebrated the seventieth anniversary of its independence on August 15, 2017, this event was intended to be a public invitation to remember that this independence came with a price: the price of partition, paid by the millions who lost homes, lives, families, and belonging in 1947.

“Remembering Partition” was the first, three-day long, sustained, multi-disciplinary and public dialogue that reckoned with the Partition, ever held—in India or the world.  Envisioned and curated by the Lab’s visionary director Parmesh Shahani, “Remembering Partition” was hosted by the Godrej India Culture Lab in a cutting edge campus in suburban Mumbai, and involved over seven exhibits of art installations, refugees’ letters, objects, and fashion that explored the Partition experience; it also presented panel presentations and dialogue over three days with scholars, writers, filmmakers, artists, fashion designers, actors, activists, and Partition witnesses who shared memories of the mass migrations during 1947.

The speakers included Indians, Pakistanis, and Bangladeshis from a range of fields, like Sharmeen Obaid, Lalita Ramdas, Salima Hashmi, Nandita Das, Vishwajyoti Ghosh (editor of  This Side, That Side: Restorying Partition), Anusha Yadav (The Indian Memory Project), Nina Sabnani, Tanvir Mokammel, and Ramesh Sippy. In addition, local and global thought leaders and innovative producers from different industries and walks of life attended. Many speakers highlighted feminist and queer perspectives of the Partition; others also reflected on the enduring legacies of the Partition, from India-Pakistan conflict to Kashmir—something that I pointed to in Violent Belongings. The panels at this event drew over 600 attendees every day, from across four generations; it was standing room only at the state-of-the art auditorium. People from all walks of life, from scholars and artists, to activists, senior citizens, students, and school children showed up to hear and participate in this important, and long-overdue dialogue on the 1947 Partition.

A slideshow of images from the events can be found here:

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My panel “Archiving Partition,” inaugurated the event on August 5.  Speaking along with activists like Guneeta Bhalla (founder of the 1947 Partition Archive), Aanchal Malhotra, and Mallika Ahluwalia, I discussed the archive of literature, film, and journalism my book examines, to explore the cultural representation of Partition from 1947 till 2007.  I discussed why Partition urgently continues to resonate today for both India, as well as South Asian America. Issues explored in my talk included the lessons learned from the refugee experience of the Partition, and how revisiting Partition could enable us to reinvent “the politics of the present.”  

daiyacomps.inddIn Violent Belongings, one of the things I pointed out was how the institutional censorship of refugees’ voices in the early independence period, meant that until the 1990s, the experience of millions of Partition refugees was largely marginalized, if not ignored, in Indian history.  This silencing was both acknowledged and undone in this interdisciplinary dialogue  “Remembering Partition,” which extended and complemented activities like the “Voices of Partition” events with Partition witnesses regularly organized by Bhalla’s transnational, oral history online archive 1947 Partition Archive since 2013 in India, the United States, Pakistan, and the UK.

This was a great start to a robust and path-breaking three days of dialogue and artistic exploration that honored Partition refugees’ experience, identified Partition’s many legacies, and pointed to new directions in memorializing the most momentous event in the modern history of the Indian subcontinent. Gender-based violence and how women were differently impacted by the Partition were central to the story told by Violent Belongings. This focus was complemented by the art installation at this event “Well of Remembrance.”  The installation, which partially recreated a brick well with a white fabric suspended from the ceiling, memorialized the fact that thousands of women jumped into wells during Partition to avoid sexual violence, and lost their lives in the process.  The fabric symbolized the long scarves or sarees women often wore in northern India, as if it was falling into the well.  The installation served as a stark reminder of the differential price that women paid in this geo-political and religious conflict created by the British division of the Indian subcontinent.

Theorizing America’s Killing of Black Men and Boys: A Black Male Studies Paradigm

This week in North Philly Notes, Tommy Curry, author of The Man-Notaddresses issues of racism and the seemingly unending deaths of Black males in American society. 

Over the last several years, there has been a much needed focus on police violence and incarceration in the Black community. Drawing much of its impetus from the increased visibility of police shootings of young Black men, the criticisms of the police has shown that the death of Black males is inextricably wed America’s desire for law and order. The external violence we witness through our seeing of the gore, the bloodied concrete surrounding the corpse of the Black male is but a small part of the death and dying of Black men within the United States. Death haunts Black males in America. Since the dawn of the 20th century, homicide has been the number one killer of Black males ages 15-34 in this country. Black men have the shortest life expectancy of all race/sex groups in the United States, and are more likely to be killed by a spouse or intimate than any other group of men. In this sense, far too many Black males are confined by death and existentially defined as death bound.

Our current intersectional theories of Black masculinity reside in a tenuous contradiction of sorts that interpret Black males as a privileged disadvantaged group. This assertion is primarily analytic. By this I mean that the concept of a privileged disadvantaged group emerges abstractly as a combination of a disadvantaged racial category like Blackness and the allegedly privileged gender category of maleness rather than an empirical account of the actual disparities found between Black men and Black women comparatively.  Inspired by conceptualizing discrimination as applying to the multiple identities possessed by specific bodies, the levels of lethal violence and economic disadvantage historically directed at Black males are often overshadowed by the presumed privilege Black men inherit as males within patriarchal societies.

Man-Not_smThe Man-Not: Race, Class, Genre, and the Dilemmas of Black Manhood engages in a radically different paradigm of analysis which draws from social dominance theory, genocide studies, and various social science literatures. Imagine if you will that racism is in fact a technology of death. It is an ideology that creates and sustain low-level warfare against a specific outgroup in a given society. In Social Dominance: An Intergroup Theory of Social Hierarchy and Oppression, Jim Sidanius and Felicia Pratto offer an account of Western capitalist and patriarchal societies that see outgroup males as threats to the dominant group’s endogamy. Said differently in patriarchal societies in-group males and females see outgroup males as cultural and biological threats to their group. These subordinate males then become targets of the most extreme forms of lethal violence and discrimination because their oppression is linked to extermination rather than merely coercion or control. Sidanius and Pratto named this dynamic the subordinate male target hypothesis, or the idea that arbitrary set discrimination (those categories in a society that are socially constructed by the dominant group) are marked by extraordinary levels of lethal violence targeting subordinate males, not subordinate females as traditionally theorized by intersectionality.

The findings of Sidanius and Pratto are actually quite similar to the well-established observation found in the works of genocide studies concerning males of targeted groups. For example, Adam Jones’s “Gendercide and Genocide” argues that it is a well-established fact that “the gender-selective mass killing and ‘disappearance’ of males, especially ‘battle-age’ males, remains a pervasive feature of contemporary conflict.” If racism is in fact a genocidal logic, then it should be possible to analyze racist violence as the propensities and targets of the violence found in actual genocides. These studies overwhelmingly show that the while the dehumanization of racism is applied to all within the subordinate group, the primary and initial targets of genocidal violence are the out-group males, so one could theorize that the precarious position of Black men in America can be accounted for as a consequence of the tendency for racial or ethnic regimes to target non-combatant battle aged males in the United States as well.

The Man-Not attempts to apply what has already been demonstrated in various empirical fields like psychology, sociology, and history to what has been primarily isolated to theorization dealing with race and gender fields in liberal arts. It seems incontrovertible that Black males are constructed as terrors in white patriarchal societies, and that these stereotypes (such as the rapist, deviant, and criminal) are used rationalize their deaths amongst white individuals and manufacture consensus about the levels of violence imposed upon them by the larger white society. The idea of Black men as rapists dissuades white women from desiring to reproduce with Black men because they are socialized to see Black males as dangerous, while white men are able to justify the death of Black men to protect white women. Said differently, the death of Black men and boys serves an endogamic function. This peculiar negating of Black males in the United States is part of a larger historically established practice of racially repressive patriarchal regimes the world over.

Throughout various genocides we find the construction of racialized males as being outside the boundaries of humanity. The men and women of these dominant racial or ethnic groups have historically endorsed the use of lethal violence against these racialized male groups because they are believed to threaten the endogamy of the dominant racial group. Despite the construction of racialized males as rapists, we find throughout various genocidal contexts like the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust, and American slavery and Jim Crow, the practice of rape and other sexual assaults against outgroup males. This confirms that within racialized patriarchal societies we find an erotics of subjugation that peculiarly targets outgroup males. The Man-Not argues that once interrogated with an eye to the sexual and lethal violence directed against racialized males historically, Black men emerge as one of the greatest victims of white patriarchy not its benefactor.

What’s inside the new issue of Commonwealth


COMMONWEALTH: A Journal of Pennsylvania Politics & Policy
devotes one issue annually to a policy topic of contemporary importance to the state. In 2016 the special issue focused on education, and the 2018 issue will be devoted to the opioid epidemic.

homepageImage_en_USWe are proud to announce that the 2017 special issue on Energy and the Environment is now available. The Special Editor for the issue is Christopher P. Borick, Professor of Political Science and the Director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion as well as the Co-Director of the National Surveys on Energy and Environment. Dr. Borick is a well-known commentator on Pennsylvania politics, appearing regularly in media interviews nationally and across the state.

This special issue of COMMONWEALTH provides readers with an enhanced understanding of the complex issues that define energy and environmental policy in contemporary Pennsylvania. The issue begins with a number of engaging pieces on the most prominent issue of the era—hydraulic fracturing. First, Rachel L. Hampton and Barry G. Rabe, of the University of Michigan, provide an in-depth analysis of Pennsylvania’s unique policy response to the arrival of fracking in the state over the past decade. In particular, Hampton and Rabe provide valuable insight into why Pennsylvania has opted to forgo the types of energy extraction taxes that other states have made key components of their fiscal policy structures.

Philip J. Harold and Tony Kerzmann, of Robert Morris University, continue the examination of fracking in the Commonwealth with a thorough overview of public attitudes and preferences regarding this major addition to life in Pennsylvania. They find that state residents have responded to the expansion of fracking with increased awareness and highly divided levels of support for this means of natural gas extraction. Building on this examination of public opinion toward fracking, Erick Lachapelle, of the University of Montreal, contributes an engaging piece that compares perceptions of fracking among residents of Pennsylvania and New York. Lachapelle’s study finds alignment between the policy preferences of Pennsylvanians and New Yorkers and their states’ extremely varied policy approaches regarding hydraulic fracturing.

Renewable energy development has also been a feature of policy development in Harrisburg. Sarah Banas Mills, of the University of Michigan, examines the recent drought of wind energy development in Pennsylvania during a period in which wind power has grown substantially across the United States. Mills suggests that local land-use regulations may be more responsible than failures of state-level renewable energy policy for the lack of new wind power facilities in the Keystone State.

Somayeh Youssefi, of the University of Maryland, and Patrick L. Gurian, of Drexel University, examine another source of renewables: solar energy. They provide a powerful case that Pennsylvania’s efforts to incentivize the generation of solar energy have been limited by market factors that have made the state’s tax credits insufficient to increase development. Youssefi and Gurian offer elegant policy modifications that could remedy the struggles to grow solar energy options in the state within the broader constraints of a regional energy market.

The special issue concludes with invaluable perspective on environmental governance in Pennsylvania during a period of tremendous partisan conflict. John Arway, Director of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, provides insight into the challenges of protecting the Keystone State’s spectacular array of waterways and aquatic wildlife amid the partisan strife that has consumed the state capitol over the past decade. Arway’s experiences in his challenging position and his call for more cooperation between “technocrats, bureaucrats, and politicians on both sides of the aisle” provide a well-suited conclusion to the broader themes explored in this issue.

 

Announcing the new issue of Kalfou

This week in North Philly Notes, we highlight the new issue of our journal, Kalfouedited by George Lipsitz at the UCSB Center for Black Studies Research

Kalfou volume 4, no. 1, continues the journal’s pioneering work in creating timely and lively conversations among academics, activists, and artists. The new issue features a forum on the BlackLivesMatter movement and its impact on and implications for the Black Prophetic Tradition in religion and politics. Participants in that discussion are Juan Floyd-Thomas of Vanderbilt University; Johari Jabir of the University of Illinois, Chicago; Lawrence Brown of Morgan State University; and Kalfou senior editor George Lipsitz of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Arts activist Natasha Thomas-Jackson writes about the ways in which her innovative youth performance troupe RAISE IT UP!! mobilized young people to step up and speak out about the water crisis created by racially targeted privatization schemes in Flint, Michigan.

University of Wyoming American Studies Professor Lilia Soto compares and contrasts the commemoration of the activism of César Chávez, Dolores Huerta, and the United Farm Workers movement in Napa, California, with public commemorations of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa.

Musician, arts administrator, and researcher Russell C. Rodríguez contributes a moving eulogy for Ramón “Chunky” Sánchez, a legendary Chicanx musician and activist.

Also featured is a teacher’s guide to the film Becoming Ourselves by Asian Immigrant Women Advocates; a rumination on apologies and reparations by Washington University anthropologist Peter Benson; and a discussion by Venise L. Keys of her artistic practice.

Table of Contents

Feature Articles

Lawrence T. Brown
Johari Jabir
Juan Floyd-Thomas
George Lipsitz

Talkative Ancestors

Keywords

Peter Benson

La Mesa Popular

Lilia Soto

Art and Social Action

Venise L. Keys

Mobilized 4 Movement

Natasha Thomas-Jackson

Teaching and Truth

Asian Immigrant Women Advocates

In Memoriam

Russell C. Rodríguez

Book Reviews

Barbara Tomlinson

Somalis in the Twin Cites and Columbus in the Twin Cities

SomalisinTC-photo-by-Jennifer-Simonson

From left to right, Jaylani Hussein, Ahmed Ismail Yusuf, Stefanie Chambers, R. T. Rybak. Photo by Jennifer Simonson.

Rain Taxi presented a discussion featuring authors Stefanie Chambers (Somalis in the Twin Cities and Columbus, Temple University Press) and Ahmed Ismail Yusuf (Somalis in Minnesota, Minnesota Historical Society Press), and moderated by Jaylani Hussein, Executive Director of CAIR-Minnesota. The event was introduced by former mayor of Minneapolis R. T. Rybak, author of Pothole Confidential (University of Minnesota Press). The event was co-presented with Trinity College and Minneapolis Foundation.

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From left to right, Jaylani Hussein, Ahmed Ismail Yusuf, and Stefanie Chambers. Photo by Jennifer Simonson

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Stefanie Chambers and Ahmed Ismail Yusuf sign books.. Photo by Jennifer Simonson.

The Twin Cities are home to the largest Somali American population in the United States, and this community has made important contributions to the political, economic, and social fabric of the region. Given the current uncertainty about immigrant and refugee policy, combined with the challenges the Muslim community faces under the current administration, Rain Taxi hosted this important event at Open Book in Minneapolis. Book sales were handled by Milkweed Books.

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