The Politics of the Pythians

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When we think of African American baseball we usually focus on the 20th-century Negro leagues or on Jackie Robinson’s integration of major league baseball. But black baseball has roots that go back to the end of the Civil War. The Pythians black baseball team in Philadelphia had its first full season here in 1867, led by field captain and shortstop, educator and activist Octavius Catto.

The Pythians’ story is about more than just baseball. Their ball games spawned social gatherings—picnics, dinners, and dances—that provided opportunities to meet with other colored teams in different eastern cities. It was here that players and their supporters discussed segregation and voting rights.

By 1870 the political successes in the northern cities, like Philadelphia, created racial tensions that threatened colored ball playing. In the Quaker City a good deal of the post-15th Amendment fall-out was focused on the Pythians' captain Octavius Catto. In the mayoral election of 1871, tensions came to a head. Catto, in particular, was targeted by his political adversaries. His death and martyrdom was a tragic sacrifice to the Pythians' political legacy.

The guest speaker will be Jerrold Casway, Ph.D., the Dean of Social Sciences and Teacher Education at Howard Community College in Columbia, Maryland. He is the author of three books, including Ed Delahanty in the Emerald Age of Baseball (2006) and The ‘Olde’ Ball Game, The Culture and Ethnicity of 19th-Century Baseball (awaiting publication decision). Casway has written many articles on the early game and has frequently spoken at the Hall of Fame's 19th-Century Symposiums. Last summer he conducted a bus tour of Philadelphia's historic ball parks. He is currently at work on a history of baseball in Philadelphia from 1832 to the building of Shibe Park.