Chapter 8: “How Much I Yearn To Be A Man”

Credit: © Cheyney University of Pennsylvania

By Octavius’s junior year, the I.C.Y.’s reliance on colored teachers for colored pupils had drawn so much notice that visitors from other states came to gaze and gawk. The scenes resembled Fanny Jackson’s Oberlin classes — except that the only whites were visitors.

A white Maryland minister used the I.C.Y. to rebut the better-off-as-slaves theory. Writing in 1857, Rev. John Dixon Long dared Southerners to observes Philadelphia Negroes — “their 18 to 20 churches [and] … their classical high school, with its colored professors from New England and Jamaica — a school as I have never seen on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.”

A new principal in 1855 replaced Charles Reason, who had married a woman from New York and moved there to run a school. The I.C.Y. managers published another notice asking colored teachers to apply, and Ebenezer Bassett, one of the young leaders of the suffrage drives in Connecticut, raised his hand.

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A Call to Arms

Click to get a closer look, you can see the name of Octavius Catto at the bottom, as well as his father's.

This broadside is eight feet high and was seen on windows in downtown Philadelphia in June, 1863, as black leaders called a meeting to convince black men to join the Union Army prior to Gettysburg.