In an audacious display of racism and complete disregard for Black history and military history, event organizers for a Memorial Day speech in Hudson, Ohio decided to cut a former soldier’s mic when he began talking about how freed Black slaves had honored fallen soldiers following the Civil War.
The Associated Press has reported that Retired Army Lt. Col. Barnard Kemter — who is white — decided to include the story in the speech he was giving “because he wanted to share the history of how Memorial Day originated.”
Event organizers, however, “disagreed” with his decision to honor the memory of the former slaves who helped to create Memorial Day as we know it and cut his mic without any warning. The organizers later claimed that the portion of his speech referencing Civil War traditions for memorializing fallen soldiers “was not relevant” to the city’s current efforts to honor its veterans.
According to the AP, “Cindy Suchan, chair of the Memorial Day parade committee and president of the Hudson American Legion Auxiliary, said it was either she or Jim Garrison, adjutant of the American Legion Post 464, who turned down the audio.”
Outraged by the pair’s action, the Ohio American Legion, a nonprofit organization advocating on behalf of U.S. war veterans, announced it would be launching an investigation.
In a statement, the organization’s national commander, James W. “Bill” Oxford said, “The American Legion deplores racism and reveres the Constitution. We salute LTC Kemter’s service and his moving remarks about the history of Memorial Day and the important role played by Black Americans in honoring our fallen heroes. We regret any actions taken that detract from this important message.”
Suchan claims that after she reviewed Kemter’s original speech, she asked him to remove the sections she considered offensive — the references to former Black slaves and how they helped usher in Memorial Day.
Kemter said he didn’t see her suggested changes until just before delivering the speech. When he was made aware of her suggestions, he discussed the changes with a Hudson public official, who told him not to adjust his speech.
He is also now said to be incredibly disappointed that the organization decided to silence more than two minutes of his 11-minute speech, including the section in which he described how following the Civil War, “former slaves and freed Black men exhumed the remains of more than 200 Union soldiers from a mass grave in Charleston, South Carolina, and gave them a proper burial.”
The veteran who spent 30 years in the Army and served in the Persian Gulf War said, “This is not the same country I fought for.”
Disgusted by the decision to cut his mic and the racism and erasure that the censoring implied, the mayor and Hudson City Council issued their own statement, saying the censorship “disrespected” Kemter and all the veterans in the region.
“Veterans have done everything we have asked of them during their service to this country, and this tarnished what should have been a celebration of their service,” the statement said.