‘I was arrested and it was The Salvation Army’s fault!’

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Man credits The Salvation Army for the defining moments of his life.

By Jen Arens

Salvationists marched alongside hundreds of clergy and citizens of San Francisco on Jan. 17, to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s historic march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. Among the marchers was 82-year-old civil rights activist Irving Katuna, who was excited to walk next to a Salvationist.

Irving Katuna (second from left) during the historic Selma march (Photo courtesy of Irving Katuna)

“I think it’s ironic that I’m walking with The Salvation Army during this march, because they’re the reason I was arrested at the original march,” Katuna said.

Katuna credits his teaching career, his passion for civil rights, and even his multiple arrests to The Salvation Army. In the early 1950s, The Salvation Army’s Red Shield Youth Association hired Katuna, then a college student, to work with kids in a predominantly black neighborhood of San Francisco.

“To this day I still can’t believe The Salvation Army took a chance on a goofy Jewish kid,” said Katuna. The Salvation Army paid him $1 an hour—not much even by the standards of the early 1950s, but that job changed his life forever.

“I got my first teaching job because they were impressed with my work with The Salvation Army,” he said. “They told me that if I could handle that neighborhood I could handle anything.” Katuna became a teacher and spent his 37-year career in the toughest urban schools in San Francisco. He credits landing his first real job to his experience at The Salvation Army, but he also jokingly blames them for getting him arrested.

In 1965, Katuna was teaching at a school a few blocks from the Army’s officer training school when his rabbi organized a group to help Dr. King. With his wife and four small children safely at home, Katuna headed to Selma to march in what would later be referred to as “Bloody Sunday.”

“We must have looked fairly foolish being arrested in our suits and ties, but I would do it all over again,” Katuna said. “The Salvation Army helped me realize that I needed to risk everything for the welfare of others so that’s what I did.”

Katuna was arrested twice during the marches in Selma but he doesn’t mind.

“I was arrested and it was The Salvation Army’s fault—they cultivated the idea that I needed to fight for others, that I wasn’t just marching for the rights of African-Americans that day. I was marching for women, Latinos, and Chinese; anyone who didn’t have the same rights that I did. Look at how much things have changed since that day. I’m glad that The Salvation Army got me arrested.”

Although he just turned 82, Katuna’s life still reflects his experiences with The Salvation Army; he is active with the Lion’s Club and his synagogue, and with his grandchildren.

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