Octavius V. Catto, Black Educator Hall of Fame

This Black History Month, we’ll highlight 28 Black Educators in our Hall of Fame.

Octavius V. Catto was an educator and an activist; an eduactivist, born on February 22, 1839 in South Carolina. He was born in South Carolina, but he made his mark in Philadelphia. He attended the Institute for Colored Youth; an institution, founded as the African Institute, that trained Black youth to become teachers – free of charge. Catto was valedictorian of his graduating class and was immediately added to the school staff as assistant to the principal. He also taught.

Whether Classical Literature or Higher Mathematics, Catto was in the classroom. But he also taught his students liberation.

White teaching, Catto worked to secure the voting rights of Blacks in Pennsylvania. He was a member of a number of other civic, literary, patriotic and political groups. He worked to secure justice for all workers, specifically Black people and in his spare time, he was a player-coach for the best baseball team in the city.

His impeccable reputation as a scholar elicited job offers for the position of principal from similar schools located in New York City and Washington, D.C. But Catto was dedicated to his students and in Philadelphia is where he’d stay. His remaining in Philadelphia proved vital to the war effort in Pennsylvania to defend the Union from Confederate attacks; as well as towards the fight for Black liberation.

When Confederate soldiers invaded Pennsylvania, Catto raised a volunteer company of soldiers made up of his students from the Institute of Colored Youth. Although that group of men was not allowed to serve, Catto continued to raise Black troops to fight for the liberation of Black people by way of the Civil War.

He worked with Frederick Douglass and his efforts helped to produce numerous companies of Black troops. Catto was an educator whose focus was education for liberation; equipping his students to use the pen and the gun if necessary.

His death was a result of racists who did not agree with his message and his activism. Sadly, while walking home in preparation to continue to register Black Philadelphians to vote, he was shot and died when carried to the local police station. He was engaged to another freedom fighter and Educator Hall of Famer, Caroline LeCount.

It is important that educators not only talk the talk, but that they also walk the walk. Catto is an example of an educator who did both. He used his platform to be a living example of how to educate to liberate. Catto was clear about his purpose of equipping and empowering a people to take their freedom from the hands of their oppressor. May we all be so impactful as Mr. Octavious Catto.

Octavius V. Catto; a member of our Black Educators Hall of Fame. 

For more information on Octavius V. Catto, visit the following site.

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Center for Black Educator Development CBED

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