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Hudson condemns American Legion’s choice to turn down veteran’s mic during part of speech about freed Black slaves

Updated: Jun. 3, 2021 at 2:55 PM EDT
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HUDSON, Ohio (WOIO) - Organizers of a Memorial Day ceremony turned off a speaker’s microphone when the former U.S. Army officer began talking about how freed Black slaves had honored fallen soldiers soon after the Civil War.

The incident has the American Legion calling for the resignation of the people involved.

Hudson condemns American Legion’s choice to turn down veteran’s mic during part of speech about...
Hudson condemns American Legion’s choice to turn down veteran’s mic during part of speech about freed Black slaves(The American Legion - Department of Ohio Facebook Page)

Retired Army Lt. Col. Barnard Kemter told the Associated Press he included the story in his speech because he wanted to share the history of how Memorial Day originated.

But organizers of the ceremony in Hudson, Ohio, said that part of the speech was not relevant to the program’s theme of honoring the city’s veterans.

Cindy Suchan, chair of the Memorial Day parade committee and president of the Hudson American Legion Auxiliary, said it was either her or Jim Garrison, adjutant of the American Legion Post 464, who turned down the audio, the Akron Beacon Journal reported.

A.J. Stokes, who ran audio for the event, told 19 News Garrison turned down the volume, after he refused to do so.

“(Suchan) said ‘he’s not supposed to say that,’ turn his microphone off,” Stokes recalled. “At that point I said ‘no, I’m not going to do that, I don’t do that.’ Being a professional you do not do that to a speaker in front of a crowd of people.”

19 News reached out to Suchan, but she has yet to call us back.

Meanwhile, the Ohio American Legion said it was investigating the incident.

“The American Legion deplores racism and reveres the Constitution,” the organization’s national commander, James W. “Bill” Oxford, said in a statement. “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 detracts from this important message.”

In the days before the ceremony, Suchan told the A.P. she reviewed the speech and asked Kemter to remove certain portions. Kemter said he didn’t see the suggested changes in time to rewrite the speech and talked with a Hudson public official who told him not to change it.

Kemter said he was disappointed the organizers silenced two minutes of his 11-minute speech, during which he talked about how 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.

“This is not the same country I fought for,” said Kemter, who spent 30 years in the Army and served in the Persian Gulf War.

Stokes said he apologized to Kemter after the event and told him he wasn’t responsible for lowering the audio. “I’m still very upset with the whole situation,” said Stokes.

Hudson city leaders said the feel the same way. The Mayor of Hudson and Hudson City Council are condemning the actions of the American Legion. A statement from the elected officials reads, in part: “The decision disrespected the Lt. Col. who has valiantly served our country .”

State Representative Casey Weinstein was also upset at the actions and said in a tweet that this racist censorship had no place in Hudson.

See the full statement and the tweets below.

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