Veteran’s microphone purposely cut off during story of Black freed slaves’ role in first Memorial Day

The organizers of an Ohio Memorial Day ceremony reportedly muted the microphone of an Army veteran who was giving a keynote speech about the origins of the holiday that was originally known as Decoration Day.

Shortly before his mic was cut off, Lt. Col. Barnard Kemter, citing one historian, explained that “Memorial Day was first commemorated by an organized group of black freed slaves less than a month after the Confederacy surrendered” which occurred in Charleston, S.C. that involved emancipated slaves giving Union soldiers a proper burial after exhuming a mass grave at a Confederate POW camp.

“The ceremony is believed to have included a parade of as many as 10,000 people, including 3,000 African-American schoolchildren, singing the Union marching song, ‘John Brown’s Body.’ They were carrying armfuls of flowers and went to decorate at the graves,” Kemter told about 300 attendees at Markillie Cemetery in Hudson, Ohio, in the Cleveland-Akron area.

Lt. Col. Kemter, 77, a U.S. Army combat medic who served in the Persian Gulf War, continued on with his 11-minute address during the two minutes when there was no audio. He initially thought a routine technical glitch occurred, but he now maintains that his free speech rights were violated.

“Cindy Suchan, who chairs the Memorial Day parade committee and is president of the Hudson American Legion Auxiliary, said it was either her or Jim Garrison, adjutant of American Legion Lee-Bishop Post 464, who turned down the audio. When pressed, she would not say who specifically did it,” the Akron Beacon Journal reported.

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(Video: Daily Mail)

Kemter and the event organizers reportedly had some back and forth in run-up to Memorial Day in which they allegedly put him on notice that that the portion of the speech about the role of emancipated slaves was not relevant to honoring Hudson veterans and should be deleted from the prepared remarks.

“We asked him to modify his speech, and he chose not to do that,” Suchan told the Journal.

Kemter also claims that in one email received the night before Memorial Day, the organizers didn’t make clear what portion they wanted deleted, and in any case, it was too late to write a new speech.

“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 [freedom of] speech,” Kemter, who served in the Army for 30 years, told the news outlet. “This is not the same country I fought for.” He also described the speech as well-received by the audience.

There undoubtedly will be more details about who did or didn’t do what in the controversy forthcoming, especially because the Ohio American Legion has launched an investigation.

Robert Jonathan

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