A retired army lieutenant colonel had his mic cut as he spoke about freed Black slaves honouring fallen soldiers after the end of the Civil War in 1865.
Lt Col Barnard Kemter, 77, was the keynote speaker at a Memorial Day event in Hudson in northern Ohio. As he started to speak about the role that African-Americans played in establishing the tradition of Memorial Day, his mic was cut for two minutes in the middle of his 11-minute speech. Thinking it was just a technical glitch, he carried on without the mic.
He told The Washington Post: “I decided, ‘I don’t need a microphone.’ I just proceeded in my Army command voice.”
Afterwards, it became clear that the organizers of the event had cut Lt Col Kemter’s mic.
The chair of the Memorial Day parade committee and president of the Hudson American Legion Auxiliary, Cindy Suchan, said it was her or Jim Garrison, adjutant of American Legion Lee-Bishop Post 464, who cut the mic. When pushed by the Akron Beacon Journal, she still wouldn’t specify who exactly did it.
Ms Suchan told the paper that the organizers wanted Lt Col Kemter to remove that part of his speech because it “was not relevant to our program for the day”. She added that the “theme of the day was honouring Hudson veterans”.
“We asked him to modify his speech, and he chose not to do that,” she said.
Lt Col Kemter said he wanted to share the origin of Memorial Day in his speech. He said he got “numerous compliments” from members of the audience who said, “it was nice to hear the history”.
The veteran told the paper the speech “was well-received” and that many people told him they “never knew” the origin of the tradition.
“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,” Lt Col Kemter told the Akron Beacon Journal. “This is not the same country I fought for.”
He said he trained as a combat medic and served in the US army from 1965 to 1995.
During the two minutes when his mic was cut, Lt Col Kemter could still be heard speaking about how former slaves and freed Black men worked to exhume the remains of more than 200 Union soldiers in Charleston, South Carolina to give them “a proper burial” after the end of the Civil War.
Lt Col Kemter said he received an email about three days before the ceremony was to take place from one of the organizers, asking him to remove that section of the speech.
“I didn’t have time to sit down and rewrite another speech,” he said.
Ms Suchan said she asked the audio engineer to cut the mic during the event. The engineer refused but indicated which knob controlled the mic.
The audio engineer, AJ Stokes, told the Akron Beacon Journal that it was Mr Garrison who turned down the mic and then switched it back on.
Mr Garrison didn’t confirm whether he cut the mic and said he had “nothing to add”.
Mr Stokes said both Ms Suchan and Mr Garrison were “very adamant” about cutting the mic.
“That was very improper,” Mr Stokes told the paper. “I would’ve never done something like that.”
Lt Col Kemter told The Washington Post he has received many messages applauding the speech.
“A lot of people viewed this as a healing speech and paying a tribute to the African Americans that started Memorial Day,” he told the paper.
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