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Diamond in the Rough: Octavius Catto and the Quest for Black Manhood (1833-1871)

Di Benedetto, Thomas

Undoubtedly the most well-known African American associated with baseball in
America is Jackie Robinson, who, in 1947, broke the color line to become the first black
player in the Major Leagues. Far less famous is the African American central to the creation
of that line nearly eighty years earlier: Octavius Valentine Catto. However, Catto’s aim was
not the establishment of a color line. It was just the opposite, in fact, as Octavius was
merely the first black ballplayer to seek entry into the National Association of Baseball
Players (NABBP), the nation’s original governing body of baseball. Needless to say, his
application was rejected, followed shortly after by a formal ban of African Americans from
the league. Yet, this campaign was just one of many led by Octavius Catto during his
inspiring mid-nineteenth century career as a black activist in Philadelphia, a career as
fascinating as any other in the Civil Rights movement, including Jackie Robinson.

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History
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B.A., Columbia University
Published Here
May 6, 2011
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