Philadelphia is on track to unveil the first statue memorializing an African-American individual on the city’s public land.
Philadelphia’s streets are peppered with statues of various historical figures, though few of them are of minority figures. The city is attempting to change that by honoring Octavius Catto, a 19th century black educator, activist and baseball player, with a 12-foot bronze and granite monument, reported Philly.com. The memorial will be the first public sculpture erected at City Hall since 1923 and is set to be revealed on Sept. 26.
Catto worked to desegregate Philadelphia’s streetcars and give black people voting rights in the late 1860s, eventually being killed in 1871 by a white mob protesting black voters. His statue will feature upturned streetcars and a ballot box.
Erecting this statue has been in the works for 13 years, but will be unveiled amid national controversy over Confederate statues. Over $1.6 million has been raised for this memorial, including funding from the city and other partners, the Philadelphia Tribune reported.
“He’s not in any history books kids in high school and middle school have now,” said Murray Dubin, a former Philadelphia Inquirer reporter and author, said to Philly.com. “Nobody knows about Catto. He was an extraordinary, forgotten African American, American hero.”
Catto’s statue also comes amid ongoing controversy in Philadelphia over another, notable statue of former Mayor Frank Rizzo, who has been criticized for “terrorizing blacks and gays,” wrote the Washington Post.
After white nationalists organized a violent protest in Charlottesville, Va. to oppose the planned removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, several members of the Philadelphia City Council also called for the city to remove Rizzo’s statue, which stands in front of the Municipal Services Building in Center City.