Who is Octavius Catto?
Just about every American knows about Martin Luther King Jr. Slightly less but still a significant number of people know about Rosa Parks and her courageously refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery public bus in 1955. Fewer still will know about Fredrick Douglas, unless you are black or are a Civil War buff like I am. Hardly anyone knows about a contemporary of Douglas, Octavius Catto. Yet ninety-one years before Rosa Parks was fighting to desegregate public buses in Alabama, Octavius was fighting for the right for black Americans to ride public carriages in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The actions that Octavius took on that issue and several other fundamental civil rights would eventually lead to his assassination. His strategy with the carriage issue would become an early foreshadowing of the 'direct action' Dr. King would champion nearly 100 years later.
It is extremely hard for me as a white man to even grasp the multi-generational struggle that black Americans have had to persevere through and continue to do so to this day. I lose patience when a restaurant takes too long to bring the food I ordered. Yet heroes of the American black community, most of whom we will never know, have labored for freedom the entire history of this nation that promises equality and opportunity for all. Here we briefly pause to remember one such model of courage. Octavius Catto, you are not forgotten.