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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Making and Remaking Philadelphia: From William Penn to Jim Kenney

This week in North Philly Notes, Roger Simon, author of Philadelphia: A Brief Historyexplains how the decisions of the past are linked to the issues of today

Last week City Council approved the first phase of Mayor Jim Kenney’s Rebuilding Community Infrastructure program to repair and rebuild the city’s parks, playgrounds, recreation facilities, and libraries.  One might ask:  Why is this initiative necessary? Why have those facilities been allowed to deteriorate in the first place? Has this effort been tried before? The starting point to answering those questions is to understand the city’s past. Philadelphia: A Brief History explains how the Quaker city evolved over three-and-a third centuries in a compact and an eminently readable format.

Philadelphia_A Brief History_smThe book is built around two important themes: First is the recurring tensions between communal needs and private and personal gain. This is a particularly salient tension in Philadelphia’s history because William Penn himself articulated the goal of a harmonious and holy community, but one that would also be a prosperous settlement for the residents and for Penn himself. The tension is embodied in the name itself: Philadelphia was a city in ancient Greece, and the word does mean one who loves his brother, but it was also a prosperous port, and a place to which Saint John the Divine addressed a message in the Book of Revelations. So it embodied the ideas of prosperity, brotherhood, and holiness.

The second major theme of the book is the role that the economy has played in shaping the city. The book is structured around the major economic and technological eras: the pre-industrial age, coinciding largely with the colonial period; early industrialism in the decades before the Civil War; industrial colossus, from the Civil War to World War II; and deindustrialization and the post-industrial age since the 1950s. Throughout the book, there is considerable emphasis on the physical city, the built environment, with three dozen illustrations and maps.

Philadelphia’s history is written all over its landscape. To know how to read that landscape, not just City Hall and Independence Hall, but the public spaces, transportation lines, public institutions, and those facilities that Mayor Kenney wants to repair requires a sense of the past. This volume is an excellent place to start.

Philadelphia: A Brief History is part of the Pennsylvania History series, short monographs on topics in the history of Pennsylvania published jointly by the Pennsylvania Historical Association and Temple University Press. These volumes are intended for a general audience as well as for high school and college classrooms.

 

 

Risking Life and Lens

This week in North Philly Notes, Helen M. Stummer, author of Risking Life and Lens, provides her artist statement and a few images from her exhibit at the New Jersey Historical Society that runs through June 24.  

This exhibit is a small selection from the large body of work I have created over the past four decades as a social documentary photographer and visual sociologist.

I began my career as a painter. I loved to paint, but when I enrolled in a class at the International Center of Photography in my early thirties only planning to learn how to use my camera better, I became involved photographing the Lower East Side of Manhattan, which was what the New York Times then called one of the meanest areas in America. “If you don’t take a risk you will never do anything meaningful” became my mantra.

Stummer_fig3.26

Woman Carrying Water Home, Guatemala, 1997

France Under bridge Paris copy

Man Living Under Bridge, Paris, France, 2000

E 6th St NYC Manicure Shirley & her twins 11_22_1978 file 104 fr#31e104

Giving Mommy a Manicure, 1978

Maine Ellen Rocking Jimmy Maine. 1989 jpg

Ellen Rocking Jimmy, 1989

stummer-helen_James on Stairwell

James on the Stairs at 322, 1994

Driven out by drug dealers after four years, I went on to photograph mostly in the Central Ward of Newark, and became involved with the struggles of local residents addressing injustice in education, health, housing and police practices. I befriended several families, seeing many of their children grow up and have children of their own. During those years, I also worked in rural Maine, Guatemala, and France with a large organization, Homeworkers Organized for More Employment (H.O.M.E), in the fight against poverty, homelessness and hopelessness.

Risking Life and Lens_smRisking Life and Lens takes the reader/viewer through many of my own experiences and challenges, as well as the everyday stories that residents shared with me. I was there to learn and to witness without judging, striving to capture the innate qualities of dignity, spirit and elegance of people living amidst suffering and devastation. Their grief and anger at the world’s injustice could not erase their grace and humanity, and that left a mark on my camera and my heart.

Nelson Mandela said that poverty is man-made and therefore can be unmade. It makes no more sense to think that someone living in a so-called “bad neighborhood” is a bad person than to assume someone who lives in a “good neighborhood” is a good person. We see so much change happening in suddenly “desirable” urban environments, but a civilized society, if it is to survive, has to offer opportunity that includes and fulfills the needs of all people.

Helen M. Stummer

Designing inspiring spaces for children

 This week in North Philly Notes, Lolly Tai, author of The Magic of Children’s Gardens, explains the purpose, beauty, and benefits of creating children’s outdoor environments in public gardens.

The focus of my research for the last two decades has been on designing outdoor environments for children. My deep interest was sparked by a schoolyard project that I assigned to my landscape architecture students almost twenty years ago when I was teaching at Clemson University. I learned for the first time in a very clear way that exposing children to nature and play are extremely important to children’s physical, mental and emotional health, and that today’s children no longer have ready access to natural environments, which are critical to their development. While I appreciate the need for outdoor space for children, to my dismay, I found very little information on the topic of designing for children at that time. That gave me the impetus to focus my research in this area. I learned a great deal about the design criteria for children. Scale, water, plants, wildlife, heights, retreat, enclosure, imagination, active play, and stimulation of the five senses are important considerations when designing for children. The culmination of my initial research resulted in a co-authored award winning book, Designing Outdoor Environments for Children, published by McGraw-Hill in 2006. The goal of the book was to encourage professionals and future generations to create more natural landscapes, creative outdoor play, and learning places for children.

My passion for exploring, learning, and writing about designing inspiring spaces for children continued to grow with each passing year. I recently expanded my research to include visiting children’s spaces in public gardens and interviewing garden administrators and designers. Each year, as an educator, I also provide my current Temple University landscape architecture students with the opportunity to experience a design project with special considerations for children. The Magic of Children’s Gardens is the culmination of my most recent research.

The Magic of Children's Gardens_smThe Magic of Children’s Gardens is the first book in the design profession that details nineteen outstanding case studies of children’s outdoor environments in public gardens. It presents inspiring design ideas for creating magical children’s spaces through examination of the gardens’ goals, concepts, design, and comprehensive collection of 700 images. The case studies are intended to serve as a broad platform to inspire the creation of more well-designed children’s outdoor spaces. The Magic of Children’s Gardens is intended to serve as a resource for design professionals, school administrators, botanical garden professionals, teachers, parents, students, and others who are planning to design and build children’s spaces.

Creating children’s outdoor environments is critical in today’s society as more and more children grow up in cities. According to the United Nations, just over half the world now lives in cities, and by 2050, over 70 percent of people will be urban dwellers. Children are spending less time outdoors. Sedentary lifestyles are contributing to obesity and other health problems, as well as a sense of disconnection from nature, for today’s urban children. That deleterious trend has to end and be turned around immediately. When nature no longer occurs naturally for children, it is imperative that we join our efforts to design spaces that benefit children’s health and well-being.

 

Books of critical importance in the era of Trump from Temple University Press

This week in North Philly Notes, we showcase books of importance in the era of Trump.

Undocumented Fears: Immigration and the Politics of Divide and Conquer in Hazleton, Pennsylvania
Jamie Longazel
Longazel uses the debate around Hazleton, Pennsylvania’s controversial Illegal Immigration Relief Act as a case study that reveals the mechanics of contemporary divide and conquer politics, making important connection between immigration politics and the perpetuation of racial and economic inequality.

The Gendered Executive: A Comparative Analysis of Presidents, Prime Ministers, and Chief Executives
Edited by Janet M. Martin and MaryAnne Borrelli
A critical examination of national executives, focusing on matters of identity, representation, and power. The editors and contributors address the impact of female executives through political mobilization and participation, policy- and decision-making, and institutional change.

The Great Refusal: Herbert Marcuse and Contemporary Social Movements
Edited by Andrew T. Lamas, Todd Wolfson, and Peter N. Funke
With a Foreword by Angela Y. Davis
The Great Refusal provides an analysis of contemporary social movements around the world—such as the Zapatistas in Mexico, the Arab Spring, and the Occupy movement—with particular reference to Marcuse’s revolutionary concept.

Unsettled: Cambodian Refugees in the New York City Hyperghetto
Eric Tang
Eric Tang tells the harrowing and inspiring stories of Cambodian refugees to make sense of how and why the displaced migrants have been resettled in New York City’s “hyperghetto.”

Terrorizing Latina/o Immigrants; Race, Gender, and Immigration Politics in the Age of Security
Anna Sampaio
Winner! American Political Science Association’s Latino Politics Best Book Prize, 2016
Immigration politics has been significantly altered by the advent of America’s war on terror and the proliferation of security measures. Terrorizing Latina/o Immigrants examines how these processes are racialized and gendered and how they impose inequitable burdens on Latina/o immigrants.

Vanishing Eden: White Construction of Memory, Meaning, and Identity in a Racially Changing City
Michael T. Maly and Heather M. Dalmage
Examining how racial solidarity and whiteness were created and maintained, the authors provide an intriguing analysis of the experiences and memories of whites who lived in Chicago neighborhoods experiencing racial change during the 1950s through the 1980s.

Deregulating Desire: Flight Attendant Activism, Family Politics, and Workplace Justice
Ryan Patrick Murphy
Situating the flight attendant union movement in the history of debates about family and work, Ryan Patrick Murphy offers an economic and a cultural analysis to show how the workplace has been the primary venue to enact feminist and LGBTQ politics.

The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit from Identity Politics
Revised and Expanded Edition
George Lipsitz
In this unflinching look at white supremacy, Lipsitz argues that racism is a matter of interests as well as attitudes. He analyzes the centrality of whiteness to U.S. culture, and identifies the sustained and perceptive critique of white privilege.

Look, a White!: Philosophical Essays on Whiteness
George Yancy
Foreword by Naomi Zack
Look, a White! returns the problem of whiteness to white people. Prompted by Eric Holder’s charge, that as Americans, we are cowards when it comes to discussing the issue of race, Yancy identifies the ways white power and privilege operate.

Meet Davarian Baldwin, co-editor of the Press’s Urban Life, Landscape, and Policy series

This week, in North Philly Notes, a Q&A with Davarian Baldwin, the new editor for Temple University Press’ Urban Life, Landscape, and Policy series.

You have written about migration and Black Urban Life. What drew you to that field of study within American studies?
I am the child of the Great Migration. I am the first generation in my family to be born in the north during the Second Great Migration. While many of my family stopped and settled in other cities like Chicago, my segment of the family kept moving on to a smaller town called Beloit, Wisconsin because I think, even though full of factories it, in some ways, reminded them more of their Mississippi home.

10-041 - Trinity - Davarian - Web Feature

10-041 – Trinity – Davarian – Web Feature

Can you talk about the kinds of books you are looking to acquire for the Urban Life, Landscape, and Policy series?
I would love to acquire books that make bold arguments while, if historical, work closely with less examined archives. I would love to see books that are both global and local in scope…books that feature the city as a crossroads for different people, ideas, and aspirations all deeply grounded within the details of their urban spaces. I want to see books that don’t look at the city as just the repository for social and historical experience, but understand the built environment as equally influential, as a central actor in the storyline…books that balance their attention on the structure of cities and the agency of human lives. For me, recent books that have some or all of these qualities include Beryl Satter’s Family Properties, Nathan D.B. Connolly’s A World More Concrete, and Andrew Needham’s Power Lines.

What book (or books) made you fall in love with reading and the power of words?
While I write and edit non-fiction academic work, I must be honest and say that fiction has always been my first love. In fact I make sure to read interesting and provocative fiction when I am writing more scholarly work. As a child the books were Beverly Cleary and alternative Star Wars fiction. As a teenager The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Alice Walker’s The Temple of My Familiar, and Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon changed my life. The book that has stayed with me and challenged me with its combination of searing social commentary and elegant and witty prose remains Ellison’s Invisible Man. I have built an entire course around this book and I find something new in that novel every time I teach the course. To be sure, Zadie Smith’s White Teeth was the next generation version of that book but added a decidedly more urban flavor to Ellison’s racial satire. I think in the more academic realm, W.E.B. Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk and C.L. R. James Beyond a Boundary have done the same thing for me.

What was the last great book you read?
I am a big fan of science fiction and mystery/police procedurals, especially when the genres are both in the same book…so that makes Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife definitely the last great book I read. For me it sort of offers the prose response to one of my favorite non-fiction urban studies; Mike Davis’ City of Quartz.

What one book would you recommend everyone read?
Again mystery books/procedurals are fabulous because the great ones have amazing social commentary about gender, race, social position, inequality and so many feature the city as a central character in the story. I would recommend everyone read Paco Ignacio Taibo’s Some Clouds.

What book did you find overrated or just disappointing?
Certainly not disappointing, but as a scholar of the Great Migration, I didn’t find anything new or exciting in The Warmth of Other Suns. Yet I certainly appreciated how its prose style made decades of scholarship more accessible to a much wider audience. On the fiction side, I found Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections a bit overrated. 

What book do you wish more people knew about?
Salvador Plascencia’s The People of Paper, is an unheralded master work, not just because of its inventive prose but because the ideas in the book are expressed in the paper quality, the typeset, and materials used in the making of the very book itself. I wish the publishing market would allow more books to reflect their ideas and themes in the construction of the actual book

What author(s), living or dead, would you be most interested in having over for dinner? WOW, I hate that I don’t cook! Not just because we share the same surname but certainly James Baldwin because of his courageousness, force of nature, ethical posture, faithfulness to everyday people, impatience with pettiness, and all qualities held with flare and wit. I think I would also want to hang out with Steig Larsson…what would it be like to push out a trilogy of prose in the face of your impending death? The courage that must take as a writer when one could easily curl up in a ball

possessive_investment_rev_ed_smWhat Temple University Press title could you not put down and why?
George Lipsitz’s Possessive Investments in Whiteness was certainly from a different time, a time when the mainstream took more seriously the idea that racial identity can in fact shape life chances and access to important resources etc. But while in the 1990’s a whole shelf of books came out in the form of memoirs or celebrations of whiteness, Lipsitz’s was a thoughtful essay so rich in archival depth demonstrating clearly how state power and private wealth have been so closely tethered to white racial identity. Here the idea that race is a social construction did not justify a dismissal of the concept but called for a more rigorous understanding of its social and hence lived power.

Temple University Press is having a Back-to-School SALE!

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