The top organizer of a Memorial Day ceremony in Hudson, Ohio, where a veteran’s microphone was cut when he spoke about the holiday’s roots in black history is now facing calls to resign by the state’s American Legion.
Lieutenant Colonel Barnard Kemter, who served in the US Army as a combat medic from 1965 to 1995, was invited by Cindy Suchan, president of the Hudson American Legion Auxiliary, as the keynote speaker for the ceremony in his hometown on Monday.
The 77-year old veteran prepared a speech about the history of Memorial Day, but had his microphone cut by event organizers just as he began describing how freed black slaves started the holiday.
This incident made headlines nationwide and prompted the Ohio American Legion to launch an investigation.
Since then, one of the organizers, James Garrison, has stepped down from his position as officer of Hudson American Legion Post 464 and personally apologized to Kemter.
Now Suchan is facing mounting pressure to step down as well, after Ohio American Legion Commander Roger Friend announced Friday that he had suspended the charter of the Hudson agency, pending its permanent closure.
The microphone was cut off from Lt. Col. Barnard Kemter’s keynote address at a Memorial Day ceremony in Hudson, Ohio as he was starting to talk about the slave origins of the holiday
‘The American Legion Department of Ohio does not hold space for members, veterans, or families of veterans who believe that censoring black history is acceptable behavior,’ reads a press release from the Ohio American Legion.
The release continues to say that cutting Kemter’s microphone ‘constitutes a violation of the ideals and purposes of the American Legion . . . therefore, good and sufficient cause exists to revoke, cancel or suspend the charter of Lee-Bishop Post #464, Inc.’
Kemter told TMZ that he received a call the same day James Garrison resigned, in which Garrison said that he’s ‘sorry for the events that transpired on Memorial Day.’ Kemter added that he had not heard from Suchan, but wants to ‘move on’ from the incident. Kempter did not return DailyMail.com’s requests for comment.
The Ohio American Legion posted this tweet after learning about the censorship of Lieutenant Colonel Barnard Kemter’s Memorial Day speech, in which he spoke about the roots of the holiday in black history.
Kemter had his microphone turned off for about two minutes in the middle of his 11-minute speech, just as he was starting to talk about how the holiday was born out of a ceremony in which freed slaves honored deceased soldiers at the end of the Civil War.
‘Several towns and cities across America claim to have observed their own earlier versions of Memorial Day or ‘Decoration Day’ as early as 1866,’ Kemter explained. ‘. . . But it wasn’t until a remarkable discovery in a dusty Harvard University archive [in] the late 1990s that historians learned about a Memorial Day commemoration organized by a group of freed black slaves less than a month after the Confederacy surrendered in 1865.’
‘The ceremony is believed to have included a parade of as many as 10,000 people, including 3,000 Black schoolchildren singing the Union marching song ‘John Brown’s Body’ while carrying armfuls of flowers to decorate the graves.’
At this point in his speech, the microphone cut out and Kemter is seen tapping it in confusion before continuing to speak about the efforts made by the black community in Charleston to commemorate the 260 Union troops who died at the site during the Civil War.
‘My generation grew up listening to the famous radio personality Paul Harvey. Paul would say at the end of his broadcast, ‘And now you know the rest of the story.’ And now you know the rest of the story about the origin of Memorial Day.’ As Kemter finished this sentence, the microphone came back.
Kemter’s speech could be seen in a video of the event taken by Hudson Community Television and shared on its Vimeo page.
Suchan told the Akron Beacon Journal that organizers wanted the part of the speech excluded because it was ‘not relevant to our program for the day’ and added, the ‘theme of the day was honoring Hudson veterans.’
Suchan had told Kemter to edit his speech the day before the ceremony, but the veteran continued with it anyway saying he didn’t have time to rewrite it.
Kemter said he wanted to use his speech to detail the history of the origins of Memorial Day, which, he recounted in his speech, began when emancipated slaves gave fallen Union prisoners a proper burial.
Many of them died in the Battle of Fort Wagner on Morris Island, a battle many black soldiers fought in.
The freed slaves reportedly exhumed the mass grave and reinterred 200 Union soldier bodies in a new cemetery with a tall whitewashed fence inscribed with the words: ‘Martyrs of the Race Course,’ referring to the Washington Race Course and Jockey Club in Charleston, South Carolina, where they were buried.
Then on May 1, 1865, reports show, a crowd of 10,000 people, mostly freed slaves and some white missionaries decided to parade around the race track, with little black schoolchildren carrying flowers and singing a Union marching song.
At the end of his speech, Kemter said, he received ‘numerous compliments from attendees who told him ‘it was nice to hear the history.’
The clubhouse at the Charleston racetrack where the 1865 Memorial Day events took place.
‘It was well-received,’ Kemter said in the Akron Beacon Journal article, adding a lot of people told him they never knew about the slave origins of the holiday.
‘I find it interesting that [the American Legion] would take it upon themselves to censor my speech and deny me my First Amendment right to speech,’ Kemter said. ‘This is not the same country I fought for.’
Officials with the American Legion said they ‘asked him to modify his speech, and he chose not to do that’ before the Memorial Day ceremony.
Suchan, who chairs the Memorial Day parade committee and is president of the Hudson American Legion Auxiliary, said the two minutes where Kemter’s microphone was turned off were part of what she asked him to exclude.
Kemter confirmed he was emailed by an event organizer, whom he did not name, asking him to remove part of his speech detailing how black Americans helped found Memorial Day, and proceeded to ask the organizers to specify which portions they wanted to have excluded.
The organizer emailed him back, he said, telling him that all the parts that are highlighted should be removed, but he said he did not see anything highlighted, and with less than 24 hours to the ceremony, ‘I didn’t have time to sit down and write another speech.’
The Battle of Fort Wagner on Morris Island was the Union attack on July 18, 1863, led by the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. The infantry was one of the first major American military units made up of Black soldiers
He said he showed the text to a Hudson public official, who told him to keep the speech intact.
Then on the day of the ceremony, Suchan said she asked the audio engineer, AJ Stokes, to turn off Kemter’s microphone.
Stokes said he refused to do it himself, but pointed to the knob that controlled the microphone, saying it was Jim Garrison, adjutant of American Legion Lee-Bishop Post 464, who turned off the microphone and turned it back on.
When asked about the claims, Garrison declined to say whether he turned off the microphone and said he had ‘nothing to add’ about the situation.
Stokes said Suchan and Garrison were both ‘very adamant’ about turning off the microphone, but he was ‘very upset’ about what happened and feared he would be blamed, even though Suchan said Stokes was ‘totally blameless.’
Kemter, meanwhile, thought there was a problem with the audio equipment, he said, but Stokes told him the truth about the incident afterwards.
Following the incident, Hudson Mayor Craig Shubert published a joint press release with the Hudson City Council in which he wrote that he and the council were ‘disheartened’ on hearing about the American Legion’s censorship of Kemter.
‘The decision disrespected the Lt. Col. who has valiantly served our country and was there to honor veterans in his speech, and it disrespected all Hudson and American veterans nationwide who made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve the freedoms we value as Americans,’ read the release.
‘Hudson is a City that prides itself in our history as being the home of abolitionist John Brown and a stop on the underground railroad. We are committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion and to ensuring that the Constitutional rights of every person who lives, works, and visits our great City are protected.’