With Octavius V. Catto’s statue erected at City Hall, more people know about the extraordinary 19th-century African American educator, Pennsylvania National Guard officer, and voting-rights activist who was assassinated on South Street on Election Day 1871.
However, the recent book, They Carried Us: The Social Impact of Philadelphia’s Black Women Leaders, tells about Caroline LeCount, an educator and activist in her own right, who was Catto’s fiancée.
LeCount was a teacher and later the principal of the Ohio Street School, at Lombard Street, near 20th. She was also part of a women’s resistance movement that defied the city’s laws that segregated horse-drawn street cars.
LeCount worked with Catto to protest the segregation. Once the state legislature passed a law outlawing the discriminatory policies, LeCount attempted to board a streetcar in 1867. But the conductor refused to stop for her. Then only about 21, LeCount filed a complaint with the police that led to forcing the driver to pay a $100 fine.
LeCount’s story is among the profiles of 95 women told in the 600-page They Carried Us.
The book, written by Allener (Sissy) M. Baker-Rogers and Fasaha M. Traylor, includes profiles of Black women spanning hundreds of years in the city:
From Alice of Dunk’s Ferry, who operated the ferry across the Delaware River in the 1700s, and who is the first recorded Black child born in Philadelphia in 1694, through Ala Stanford, the Black pediatric surgeon who has gained international recognition for forming the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium, to both test for the coronavirus and provide vaccinations to underserved communities.
The authors held a Facebook Live virtual event Monday about women in sports leadership. A second discussion will occur March 31 about surviving sexual abuse. Here is a link to a YouTube video reenactment of Alice of Dunk’s Ferry’s story.
They Carried Us was published in February 2020, right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The authors had no idea that Stanford would become such a public figure during the pandemic when they interviewed her.
Of the 95 women profiled in the book, 49 were contemporary women who were alive when Baker-Rogers and Traylor, both educators, began writing the book six years ago.
“One of the things we wanted to do with the book was we didn’t want it to be all history,” Traylor, a former senior program officer for the William Penn Foundation and the founder of an independent school, said Monday. “Here are young women who are doing things that are really important.”
The youngest woman profiled is Maori Karmael Holmes, founder of the BlackStar Film Festival.
The book is divided into nine chapters on topics such as activism, business and civic institutions, educations, sports and the arts.
The first chapter, “Community Building and Movement Activism,” includes a profile of Sarah Mapps Douglass, a 19th-century educator and abolitionist, born in 1806 into an elite, free Black family.
It also features Carolyn Davenport Moore, executive secretary of the Philadelphia NAACP, who transformed the civil rights agency from a “hoity-toity’ social club into a mass activist organization in the 1940s.
She led the fight against employment discrimination at the Philadelphia Transit Company (a forerunner to SEPTA) where Black workers were kept in low-paying jobs, such as janitors, and were restricted — despite driving Army tanks during World War II — from working as conductors, bus and trolley drivers, or motormen.
After the NAACP campaigned to have eight Black workers promoted, to motormen, white PTC employees went out on a four-day strike in 1944, prompting President Franklin Roosevelt to send 5,000 U.S. troops here.
Roosevelt said the strike was hurting the war effort because thousands of Philadelphia workers could not get to their jobs in factories. In the end, Moore mobilized the community and helped create a new Transit Workers Union.
Baker-Rogers, a former professor and university administrator at both Community College of Philadelphia and Arcadia University, said “so much of Black History month was about Black man and the same people were discussed over and over.
“I have spent my life in Philadelphia and worked with and known some fantastic Black women and the work they have done. We decided to focus on them and highlight their accomplishments.”
One of the contemporary history makers in the book is Marilyn Stephens, an All-American women’s basketball player at Temple University who set scoring and rebounding records. A member of Temple’s Class of 1984, she was inducted into the Big Five Hall of Fame and was a 2016 inductee into the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame.
Stephens currently teaches at Coatesville Intermediate High School. She was the first woman to coach a boys’ high school basketball team in Florida, at Coral Reefs High.
At the Facebook Live book discussion Monday night, Stephens talked about women in new leadership roles in sports in a program also featuring Traylor and moderated by former Philadelphia Daily News columnist Linda Wright Moore, also profiled in They Carried Us.
The book’s chapter on women in sports is called “Unapologetically Us” because women, especially in sports, are often criticized about their bodies. As examples, they pointed to tennis star Serena Williams and Olympic gold-medalist gymnast Simone Biles.
When it comes to Black women, Traylor said: “You’re either too dark [complexioned] or too light. Your butt is too big, or your hips are too wide. … These sports women are completely unapologetic. Both in the way they use their bodies, and the way they tie their bodies to their minds.”
Stephens, who is 6′2, talked about being placed on her high school basketball team just because she was tall. At first, she really didn’t know the game.
But she worked hard and attended the John Chaney-Sonny Hill Basketball Camp, playing against the boys, and often grabbing rebounds.
Sports taught Stephens how to tackle problems in life in general.
She doesn’t think of obstacles, in any aspect in life, as roadblocks, but as hurdles: “When you get to a roadblock, that stops you, and you have to turn around. But what happens when you get to a hurdle? You jump over it.”
In other words, you keep on going.
To register for the March 31 Facebook live event go to: facebook.com/TheyCarriedUs/event.