Activists hold voter rally to mark the 151st anniversary of Octavius Catto’s assassination

The assassination of the civil rights champion was used as an example of why voting is so important for everyone.

Robert Fuller Houston of the 3rd Regiment sits by the Catto statue at City Hall on Oct. 10, 2022. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

Robert Fuller Houston of the 3rd Regiment sits by the Catto statue at City Hall on Oct. 10, 2022. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

It’s been 151 years since the iconic civil rights activist Octavius Catto was killed in Philadelphia during a riot between angry whites and African Americans.

A statue of Catto now sits on the south side of City Hall. It was the centerpiece for a Monday’s anniversary gathering. The event was also used to encourage more people to register to vote ahead of November’s election.

Catherine Hicks of the NAACP said people need to remember the incident as a reason to exercise the franchise of voting.

“Catto would be proud and know that his efforts were not in vain, Octavius Catto is a part of all who are here today and know what is at stake and will not sit on the sideline while our democracy and our civil rights are under attack.”

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Civil Rights attorney and activist Michael Coard called the upcoming election an important one, adding voting helps keep the memory of Catto alive.

“A man who lived and died not just died but was murdered for our right to vote.”

At the memorial rally, City Commissioner Omar Sabir spoke of how important it is for people to exercise their rights to vote and how easy it is to do so in Philadelphia.

“Even if you’re not registered, you can walk into city hall, you can get registered. Go get yourself a coffee or a slice of pizza. Then you can come back to city hall, print out your ballot and it will be done right there. You’ll get an I voted sticker. You’ll be greeted with a smile and professional service.”

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Cheyney University President Aaron Walton was the keynote speaker at the day’s event.

Walton posed a series of questions to those in attendance to think about. “What if? Octavius Catto was alive today. How different would he find the quest for civil rights and equal justice in the 21st century? How different would he find an attempt being made to suppress the vote of the marginalized? How different would he find age-old promises made in contrast to promises kept. What do you find the need for advocacy just as critical today as in his day? And how important would he say the ultimate sacrifice he made created a meaningful difference?”

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