Black lives matter. The controversy surrounding this simple, true statement is sad evidence of the state of American affairs. So as extremists rally to protect Confederate monuments, it is profoundly heartening to me to see my city honor an African-American hero with a statue.
Octavius Catto was an author, educator, soldier, athlete and activist who fought boldly for racial equality in the time after the Civil War. He led the movement that desegregated Philadelphia’s trolley system.
He also fought for the passage of African American voting rights and later for black voter turnout in elections. He was assassinated on South Street in 1871 at the age of 32.
Catto’s memorial is the first here erected to an African American. Called A Quest for Parity, the work is an artistically beautiful and heavily symbolic tribute. His likeness is accompanied by a ballot box and pillars fashioned to look like sections of a trolley, each acknowledging different aspects of this remarkable man.
The statue’s placement in the shadow of City Hall gives it its proper due. (Look for him outside the southern entrance to City Hall.)
The struggle is real and ongoing, but memorials like this are a welcome acknowledgement of the hard-fought progress of history that propels up forward.