on Sept. 26, 2017, during a time when many statues of white men of the
era were coming down across the country, the city of Philadelphia
unveiled a statue to Catto. It was "almost too good to be true," Biddle
Biddle says he and Dubin once believed Catto's short life and
violent death merited a biography, a research and writing project the
two veteran Philadelphia Inquirer journalists could complete in a year.
It took seven.
The answer lay in the words of Catto family descendant Leonard Smith,
who urged Biddle and Dubin to learn about the other men and women of
that early civil rights movement - the "hundred O.V. Cattos," as Smith
put it. They were teachers and preachers, painters and porters, barbers
and undertakers, Underground Railroad passengers and conductors. They
sat in on streetcars, petitioned legislatures, pestered presidents,
marched for the right to vote - and like the Freedom Riders of the
modern civil rights struggle, they often came back from meetings or
marches with their heads bloodied, their bones broken or their churches
Even so, Biddle says, "They went back for more" - and they won
Yet most modern Americans don't know their stories. Biddle says the goal of his and Dubin's book was to change that.
it happened, another Philadelphian was working toward the same goal.
For more than a decade, City Councilman Jim Kenney - now, Mayor Kenney
- led the effort that culminated in the dedication of a statue of Catto on the southwest apron of
Philadelphia City Hall. In a city with as many as 1,700 statues on
public land, Catto's is the first to depict an African American.
hundreds of onlookers cheered, Kenney and sculptor Branly Cadet
unveiled the bronze statue of Catto striding toward a ballot box, a
streetcar behind him, his arms outstretched as if to embrace his allies
or engage his enemies. As the mayor told the crowd, it's only a start. Major efforts to teach the stories of Catto and his allies in
Philadelphia schools have already begun.
Biddle and Dubin
- who were in the cheering crowd that day - are helping those efforts.
The curriculum is changing even as children, parents and teachers have
begun flocking to the statue.
"That," Biddle says, "is a beautiful
sight. It makes me proud of my city."
Listen to Biddle and Murray talk about Catto's influence on Radio Times and read more at Newsworks.