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Baseball and Race in Post-bellum Pennsylvania

In the years after the Civil War many people, like Octavius Catto, worked tirelessly to break down racial barriers and ensure that blacks received the social and political rights they deserved. In many places, including Philadelphia, baseball provided a platform through which to do this. Through their talent, intelligence, diligence, and drive both on and off the field, men like Octavius Catto and the players in Pythian's Base Ball Club worked to build strong ties as well as local and national support systems for the black community of Philadelphia.


19th century

African American


Recreation and Sport

Big Ideas

Pennsylvania History

Perspective on Events

Essential Questions

  • How can the story of another Pennsylvanian, past or present, influence your life?

  • How has social disagreement and collaboration been beneficial to Pennsylvania society?



  • Historical causation involves motives, reasons, and consequences that result in events and actions. Some consequences may be impacted by forces of the irrational or the accidental.

  • Conflict and cooperation among social groups, organizations, and nation-states are critical to comprehending society in Pennsylvania. Domestic instability, ethnic and racial relations, labor relation, immigration, and wars and revolutions are examples of social disagreement and collaboration.

  • Long-term continuities and discontinuities in the structures of Pennsylvania society provide vital contributions to contemporary issues. Belief systems and religion, commerce and industry, innovations, settlement patterns, social organization, transportation and trade, and equality are examples continuity and change.


  • Contrast multiple perspectives of individuals and groups in interpreting other times, cultures, and place.

  • Apply the theme of continuity and change in Pennsylvania history and relate the benefits and drawbacks of your example.

  • Summarize how conflict and compromise in Pennsylvania history impact contemporary society.

Background Material for Teacher

"Octavius Catto and the Phythians of Philadelphia," by Jerrold Casway in Pennsylvania Legacies

End of Unit Assessment

The teacher will divide the classroom into groups, preferably either in two large teams or in smaller groups of 4.  Then, teacher will select approximately 4 students to act as “referees.”  Essentially, the teacher will act as the “pitcher,” pitching questions to the class that are opinion-based, meaning there is no one correct answer, but questions that can be supported by facts learned during the day or by using references to primary source material used.  Each side takes a turn answering a question, using facts and referencing resources particularly, at which point the group of referees, led by the teacher to ensure proper learning, will determine whether it is a “homerun,” giving the team a point, or by giving them a “strike out,” and awarding them zero points.

Then, the other side gets a chance to either A) Refute the other side’s claim, again using resources and historical facts, or can further support it with new facts/resources/quotes, etc.  This can become a great review game that encourages students to speak, especially to a larger audience.  Teacher can ask students to take notes as game progresses to encourage personal responsibility over content, and can act as an exit slip for the day for teacher to, even formatively, check for understanding before next class. Alternatively, one could assess the letters the students write at the end of the lesson.


Plans in this Unit

Pythian's Base Ball Club: Playing for Keeps

Grade Level

High School

Standards/Eligible Content







PA Common Core Standards:


About the Author

This lesson was created by Jennifer Coval. Updated for SAS by Amy Seeberger, Education Intern, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.


Blog Post

Using Baseball to Discuss Civil Rights

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