The Mann Center for the Performing Arts Announces the Philadelphia Freedom Festival

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Actor Robert Branch portraying Octavius Catto during the press announcement of the Philadelphia Freedom Festival. Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Mann Center for the Performing Arts, which has solely presented music during its 80-year history, recently announced plans for the Philadelphia Freedom Festival. The festival, which will honor early, Philadelphia-based civil rights activist, Octavius Catto, is supported by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.

Catto, who lived during the late 1800s, was a leader in the fight to include African-Americans regiments in the Union Army during the Civil War. He spearheaded the creation of the Philadelphia Negro Baseball League Team, and fought for the integration of trolley cars and for the right for black men to vote. Though he was killed in 1871 during efforts to encourage the black vote, he will be remembered during the Philadelphia Freedom Festival as a man who fought for civil rights long before the term was coined.

The Mann Center "laid out plans for celebrating Catto as perhaps the greatest African-American figure of 19th-century Philadelphia—a civil-rights pioneer in the same league as contemporaries Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth—plus Dr. King and Jackie Robinson thrown in for good measure," according to Jonathan Takiff of the Philadelphia Daily News. Read more >

Some highlights include: the festival opening revival meeting of gospel music and praise dancing at Mother Bethel A.M.E. church on February 22; workshops and performances at Philadelphia public schools through the month of April; panel discussions; an award luncheon; and the premiere of a piece commissioned by composer and Pew Fellow Uri Caine and performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra, a 300-voice choir, and more, in July 2014. A statue of Catto will also be erected on the southwest side of City Hall, which will be "the very first statuary on public property recognizing an African-American historical figure," according to City Councilman James Kenney.

The festival marks a departure for the Mann, "which for 80 years (formerly as Robin Hood Dell) has been presenting music in Fairmount Park. This Octavius Catto festival is the Mann's first effort to go beyond music performances," writes Peter Crimmins of WHYY's Newsworks. Read more >

For more information on Philadelphia Freedom Festival events, running from February through July 2014, visit the Mann Center's website.