October 10th, 1871
Civil Rights Activist Octavius Catto Murdered After Voting in Philadelphia
On October 10, 1871, African American activist and Union Army veteran Octavius Catto left the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, school where he served as a teacher and administrator and headed to the polls to cast his ballot in the city’s mayoral election. The election was only the second in Philadelphia in which African American men were allowed to vote as required by the Fifteenth Amendment, ratified in 1870.
Local white Democrats, threatened by the emergence of a new, largely Republican African American voting bloc, tried to suppress the black male vote with violence. Beginning days before the election, white policemen and mobs alike terrorized the black community. On the morning of the election, several African American men were shot and some werekilled simply for being on the streets on election day.
Aware of the dangers, Catto was not deterred from exercising his newly acquired right to vote. A Northern man with Southern roots, Catto moved North with his family from South Carolina after his father’s emancipation from slavery and the young man grew into an active advocate for equal rights. In 1863, Catto helped organize black infantry units and aggressively lobbied for their inclusion in the Union miliary effort. Three years later, he staged a one-man protest against Philadelphia’s segregated street cars.
Catto did successfully cast his vote on October 10, 1871, but he did not survive the day. While headed home from the polls, he was shot and killed by Frank Kelly, a white Democrat with ties to party leaders. Catto was 31 years old. Kelly was tried for murder in 1877 but was acquitted by an all-white jury.
October 10th, 1933
Mexican Diplomat, Farmworkers Killed During California Labor Strike
On October 10, 1933, three Mexican nationals were killed during cotton growers’ attempts to break a strike by roughly 15,000-18,000 cotton pickers and cotton gin workers in central California. Ninety-five percent of the strikers were Mexican migrant workers, whose pay had fallen more than 75 percent since 1930, even as the price of cotton rose 150 percent in 1932. The strikers sought to be paid $1 per hundred pounds of cotton picked; the owners offered 60 cents.
Two of those killed in the shooting were pickers, Dolores Hernandez and Pedro Subia; the third was a Mexican consular representative, Delfino Davila. Hernandez and Davila were shot in Pixley, California, when at least thirty armed ranchers confronted dozens of unarmed Mexican laborers who had gathered to hear one of the strike leaders speak. Eight other strikers were also shot and wounded by the ranchers. Subia was killed the same day in a separate incident, when other armed growers and police confronted strikers at a nearby farm. Three other strikers were shot and wounded alongside Subia.
Days earlier, to try to break the strike, growers had evicted the Mexican workers and their families from housing on the growers’ property. The workers and families camped in nearby fields, but growers conspired with local authorities and businesses to refuse the strikers access to food. Even the federal government promised food aid only if the migrant farmworkers acceded to the growers’ demands; over the course of two weeks, seven children of strikers reportedly died from malnutrition.
The strike ended on October 26, 1933, when the growers agreed to pay 75 cents per 100 pounds of cotton. In February 1934, eight ranchers standing trial for the murder of Hernandez and Davila were found not guilty by an all-white local jury. No one was ever tried for killing Subia.