Saturday, February 27, 2010
Civil Rights leader, Baseball Pioneer. He Worked ceaselessly throughout his life toward the goal of establishing full and equal rights for African Americans, including the fight to integrate streetcars in Philadelphia. Born in Charleston, South Carolina, he moved with his family to Pennsylvania as a child and graduated from the Institute for Colored Youth (now Cheyney University), where he became a professor. He was also a staunch advocate of the Republican Party.
During the Civil War, Professor Catto was commissioned a major in the First Division of the state's National Guard, helping raise 11 Black regiments for the Union. Because of his efforts, Pennsylvania passed the 15th Amendment in 1869, guaranteeing voting rights for black males.
In 1866, after black men were rejected from membership in the National Association of Base Ball Players, he established the Pythian Base Ball Club of Philadelphia, where he was captain, manager, promoter and second baseman/shortstop. Typically batting second in the powerhouse Pythian lineup, it was not uncommon for Catto to score a half dozen or more runs a game, according to the Pythian scorecards preserved at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
Tragically, Catto was murdered by a Mr. Frank Kelly, who resented Catto for his successful efforts of organizing the black vote in the city's 1871 election. After passing Catto on the street, he turned and shot him in the back. In a final irony, Catto ran behind a streetcar, one of the streetcars he had helped integrate, to try and get away. Kelly followed him, and shot him through the heart. Catto died in the arms of a Philadelphia policeman, and was carried to the nearby 5th Ward Police Station, where his fiancée, Caroline Le Count, formally identified his body. Frank Kelly was acquitted of all charges.
His funeral, the city's largest public funeral since Lincoln's, and, at that time, the largest funeral ever held in America for a black man, was complete with a parade that included his fellow members of the Pythian club. City offices and businesses closed as he lay in state, in full dress military uniform. According to Dorothy Gondos Beers, writing in "Philadelphia: a 300 Year History", Catto was "the most magnetic and perhaps the most promising leader the Philadelphia black community had yet produced."
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