HUDSON, Ohio — It was a normal Memorial Day observance in Hudson on Monday. Until it wasn't.
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.
And now the American Legion of Ohio is calling for the resignations of the two people responsible.
Retired Army Lt. Col. Barnard Kemter tells 3News he thought it was an audio glitch at first, but it was no glitch at all. His microphone was purposely muted for several minutes.
Kemter said he included the story in his speech because he wanted to share the history of how Memorial Day originated. But organizers of the ceremony 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, says it was either her or Jim Garrison, adjutant of the American Legion Post 464, who turned down the audio.
The American Legion of Ohio is investigating the incident. On Thursday evening, Commander Roger Friend of the American Legion of Ohio requested the resignations of Garrison and Suchan.
You can watch the entire incident below in this video:
"The actions of the individuals in question do not represent the beliefs of the American Legion Department of Ohio and its members nor will they ever be tolerated," the organization wrote in its statement released on Thursday afternoon, which can be read in full below.
“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 said 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.
City leaders in Hudson have also reacted to the events of Memorial Day. In a joint letter, Mayor Craig Shubert and Hudson City Council "condemned" the move by the local American Legion to "censor the comments of Lt. Col. Kemter."
"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," the letter stated. You can read the full document below.
“To discover later that this was an intentional cut of audio was a travesty on so many levels,” Shubert told 3News. “It truly disrespected a decorated military officer, it diminished the story of the African American slaves who contributed to the first Memorial Day, and thirdly those who were in attendance did not have an opportunity to hear the full story and the meaning behind it.”
Mayor Shubert says that he spoke with all parties afterwards. Suchan explained she asked Kemter several times to remove the section of the speech due to several recent racial concerns in Hudson, one involving a school board meeting and another regarding video games. Suchan told Shubert she didn’t think it was appropriate and wanted to keep the event focused on Hudson veterans.
“This is the action of two individuals, this is not an indication of who or what Hudson is about," added Shubert. “While this is a teachable moment for a lot of folks, this cannot be the stain that remains on our city. We must continue to move forward and to embrace people of all races and nationalities and to continue to teach and learn from this.”
Kemter said he was disappointed that 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.
Mayor Shubert says there are discussions now about how to make this right, including the possibility of inviting retired Lt. Col. Kempter to give his speech before city council or the high school, while recording it and posting it for all to see. Meanwhile, the mayor says the organizers were apologetic afterwards and remorseful. However, he said they will be held accountable by the city.
You can read the entire text of Lt. Col. Kemter's speech below: