Metro Weekly

A Date To Remember

Longtime gay activist recalls a beautiful day that inspired a generation

MW: And then the music and speeches began?

KUNTZLER: Peter, Paul and Mary sang, ”If I Had a Hammer” and ”Blowing in the Wind.” There was a gospel singer and others. There were a number of actors – Paul Newman, Marlon Brando, Charlton Heston, Sidney Poitier, Diahann Carroll, Harry Belafonte….

MW: Where were you?

KUNTZLER: I was on the side of the Reflecting Pool underneath the trees, near the temporary World War II buildings. I could see soldiers lined up against the temporary buildings. There was a tremendous amount of military force.

MW: Could you hear everything well?

KUNTZLER: Yes, very much so. The speaker system was very clear. I could hear all the speeches.

MW: Is there a particular memory of the day that stands out for you?

KUNTZLER: I have a very strong emotional memory of people joining hands together, swaying and singing, ”We Shall Overcome.” That was sung throughout the day. It was very emotional.

MW: What was your motivation for joining the march that day?

KUNTZLER: There was a lot of racism and segregation in Washington.

As difficult as it is now to believe, Steven was on the staff of the House Appropriations Committee – 22 white males. They only hired white males. He was going to the Stenotype Institute of Washington to become a stenotype reporter. Only whites were permitted to attend the institute, as was the case with all of Washington’s business schools.

In early 1962, I saw an ad in The Washington Post about a job. I had to go over to an Arlington employment agency. I got a job in the proofing department of Union Trust Co. This employment agency over in Arlington had an agreement with Union Trust that they would only send white applicants. For the several months I worked at Union Trust, there was a young woman I worked with, someone I befriended. She had an African-American boyfriend and all my colleagues were openly critical.

People would say things, express racial attitudes quite openly. That always offended me.

MW: Did your feelings about racial equality come from your family?

KUNTZLER: I think it had to do with the fact that I was gay. I thought [the march] helped push a progressive agenda – not just for African-Americans, but for anyone who was oppressed. I always thought these issues were linked together. That’s why I was always opposed to racism.

It was like a straitjacket when I came here. There was a lot of racism in the Detroit area, but people didn’t express it like they did in the early ’60s here in Washington. It was a very Southern city then.

MW: Did the march inspire Mattachine members?

KUNTZLER: It inspired all of us, because people came from around the country and they went home to their communities with an inspired message that helped bring about change.

All three television networks covered it live. I got home and they were replaying it. People saw it all over the country. It had a profound effect on people’s attitudes all over the country. They thought there were going to be riots, but here was a very solemn, peaceful, enormous congregation of people.
MW: How far have we come since that day?

KUNTZLER: It’s extraordinary. We couldn’t even conceive back in the ’60s that we’d make the progress we’ve made. The struggle for human rights never ends. It’s something you’re always having to work at. We’ve made extraordinary progress, but in terms of all groups it’s an ongoing process. I was very proud of having participated.

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.