Recently I discovered another hero of the Civil Rights Movement who made inroads to equality 100 years before Dr. Martin Luther King was the face of the Civil Rights Movement. My discovery was from a shared post on Facebook by a friend. Octavius Cotto was born free in the Deep South in 1839. His family migrated north to Philadelphia where he studied and graduated valedictorian of his class. Soon he became an educator.
Later he became a Civil Rights activist who worked with Frederick Douglass and other leaders to recruit black men to join the Union effort in the Civil War. Catto later became a community organizer. His belief in garnering equality for all men had him linked with many African American movements of the time. He resisted the segregation of public transportation nearly a hundred years before Rosa Parks made her historical stand in Montgomery, Alabama. Blacks were banned from riding on horse drawn streetcars in Philadelphia. To protest the ban, Octavius Catto slept in one overnight and encouraged others to participate in this civil disobedience. In 1867, blacks in Philadelphia were allowed to ride the desegregated steetcars. Catto also fought for voting rights for black men. With the ratification of the 15th amendment in 1870, Catto was passionate about getting black men registered to vote for the 1871 election. This movement did not sit well with the white southern Democrats. Sadly on election day, Octavius Catto was shot 3 times. His attacker was acquitted of the murder.
Octavius Catto was murdered trying to get former slaves voting rights. Malcolm X stressed the importance of using the ballot like a bullet to target what the black community needed. Frederick Douglass escaped a life of hell to freedom using education as his guide and lifeboat while fighting for the rights of African Americans. Now we have someone like Kanye West who stands on the bones and blood of these late heroes and announce with something like disdain that he didn’t vote in the last, devisive election. Is this how we should remember a forgotten hero?