Over Memorial Day weekend, organizers of a celebration in Ohio cut the microphone of a U.S. Army veteran's speech when he got to a segment that discussed the holiday's origins. This segment told the history of the role former slaves played in the earliest iterations of Memorial Day. Now, those two organizers, Cindy Suchan and Jim Garrison, are being asked to resign from their positions.
Ret. Lt. Col. Barnard Kemter, the speaker of honor, had received an e-mail a few days earlier requesting he remove that section of the speech. Lt. Col. Kemter asked for clarification on which sections needed removal, and received an response that did not help clarify at all, so he delivered the speech as written.
According to the Akron Beacon Journal,
Suchan [committee chair] declined to say which part she wanted excluded, but confirmed the two minutes when Kemter’s microphone was turned off were part of what she asked him to exclude. During those two minutes, Kemter is heard discussing how former slaves and freed Black men shortly after the Civil War exhumed the remains of more than 200 Union soldiers who died in battle in Charleston and gave them “a proper burial.”
The event was hosted by Hudson American Legion, and the chair's alleged complaint was that the speech didn't conform to the "theme" of honoring Hudson's veterans. Suchan, the committee chair, said she or Jim Garrison, "adjutant of American Legion Lee-Bishop Post 464," turned the sound off. But according to the Journal, again, "[w]hen pressed, she would not say who specifically did it."
I'm trying to wrap my brain around the abject stupidity, cowardice, and cynicism of saying, "It was either me or him, and I'm not gonna say which one it was!" and thinking somehow that ludicrous proclamation would (1) absolve them, and (2) placate us.
What the Confederate Flag Flying F*ck goes on their tiny shriveled brains? How, in this day and age, can so many white people still be so goddamned fragile? Why are we so convinced that acknowledging the role Black people played in the origins of our nation will diminish us beyond repair? When will we stop denying our ingrained racism and white supremacist mindset, and set about to break the cycle?
Here was a white, mind you, army veteran, paying tribute to the history of the holiday that honors fallen soldiers of our nation, being CENSORED by the organizers for daring to teach what was true. Lt. Col. Kemter did exactly what Nikole Hannah-Jones would have had him do. He was, dare I say, including critical race theory in his telling of Memorial Day history. And bless that man, he went right on telling the story like it was his right and responsibility, because it was.
Lt. Col. Kemter was none too happy when he discovered it was not simply a technical issue that caused his mic to drop out, saying, “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.” He lamented, "This is not the same country I fought for.”
There are a few bright spots in the story, beyond the fact that this veteran sought to include the full telling of it at all. The person in charge of sound at the event, A.J. Stokes refused to cut the mic when directed to do so by Suchan, leading her (or Garrison) to be the ones to have to do it themselves. Stokes also made sure Lt. Col. Kemter knew the sound drop was not a malfunction, but a result of the organizers' actions.
Furthermore, audience members approached him after the speech to tell him they'd really enjoyed it, and especially appreciated learning the historic backstory to the holiday they'd not known before.
Finally, backlash to this overt racist censorship has been loud and swift. The Ohio American Legion has investigated, and put out a statement asking both Suchan and Garrison to resign. Nikole Hannah-Jones herself tweeted out the story. Vote Vets sound-corrected the video, so the entire speech can be heard, and heard well.
What does it say about this country that the mere mention of black people shaping our patriotic norms is considered threatening? https://t.co/uXBcPwWj15
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) June 3, 2021
It looks like the two responsible parties for censoring retired Army Lt. Col. Barnard Kemter's Memorial Day speech are James E. Garrison and Cindy Suchan, who have been asked to resign. pic.twitter.com/cnYcHhINX2
— Michael Stone (@Michael__Stone) June 3, 2021
“Kemter said he was emailed by an event organizer (whom he declined to name) asking him to remove a part of his speech dealing with Black Americans’ role in an early Memorial Day-type of ceremony.” https://t.co/XRy8BJSQZ3
— Ida Bae Wells (@nhannahjones) June 2, 2021
This is an EMBARRASSMENT. I want to know why the organizers felt they had to censor this veteran at our Hudson Memorial Day event! https://t.co/oXoEWVT2yI
— Rep. Casey Weinstein (@RepWeinstein) June 2, 2021
We sound corrected the part of Lt. Col. (Ret.) Barnard Kemter’s speech that was muted when his mic was cut off this past Memorial Day in Hudson, Ohio. He spoke of freed slaves being among the first to honor the fallen after the Civil War. Please take a moment to listen. pic.twitter.com/gjidUZF6ci
— VoteVets (@votevets) June 3, 2021
I applaud American Legion Department of Ohio Commander Roger Friend for requesting the resignation of the two local officers of Hudson American Legion Post 464 involved in censoring Lt. Col. Barnard Kemter. This is the start of accountability! https://t.co/Q4qfeZGm8K
— Rep. Casey Weinstein (@RepWeinstein) June 3, 2021
Those two racist pieces of trash, Suchan and Garrison, thought they could silence Lt. Col. Kemter, and the story of how Black people were foundational in the establishment of a sacred American holiday. In the end, their bigotry ended up helping the story spread like wildfire. May they choke on that irony.