Octavius Valentine Catto
Octavius Valentine Catto

PHILADELPHIA (AP) A black activist, educator and writer called “the Martin Luther King Jr. of the 19th century” will be honored at City Hall with a public memorial.

Octavius Valentine Catto moved to the city with his family in 1844 from Charleston, South Carolina. In 1858, he graduated valedictorian of his class from the newly founded Institute for Colored Youth, which later became Cheyney University, the nation’s oldest historically black college. Catto also fought as a Union soldier during the Civil War and helped recruit other regiments of black troops.

The installation will include a 12-foot bronze statue of Catto with outstretched arms and five granite pillars behind him. The $1.5 million monument, titled “A Quest for Parity,” is expected to be complete by late 2016.

Public memorial of Octavius Valentine Catto

Catto was fatally shot by Irish-American protesters seeking to keep blacks from voting on Oct. 10, 1871, the first Election Day since the 15th Amendment was passed granting African-Americans the right to vote.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, who is of Irish-American heritage, originally championed the project as a member of the City Council.

“There was this compelling need for me to rectify the injustice that was done to him and the fact that his contributions were ignored and not known by the general public for so long,” Kenney said.

Organizers have said the Catto memorial will be the first statue to honor a lone African-American in the city. It will be the first public sculpture at City Hall since the statue of John Wanamaker was installed in 1923.