The head of an American Legion post in Ohio stepped down today amid criticism following the decision of Memorial Day ceremony organizers to turn off a retired U.S. Army officer’s microphone while he was speaking about how freed Black slaves honored fallen soldiers just after the Civil War.
American Legion leaders in Ohio also suspended the post’s charter and are taking steps to close it.
The moves come in the wake of intense backlash to the decision to censor retired Army Lt. Col. Barnard Kemter, who 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 in Hudson, Ohio, said that section 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 this week that either she or Jim Garrison, adjutant of the American Legion Post 464, turned down the audio, the Akron Beacon Journal reported.
Garrison resigned his leadership position a day after the state organization demanded he step down, said Roger Friend, department commander for the Ohio American Legion. Garrison has since been asked to drop his membership altogether, Friend said.
“The American Legion Department of Ohio does not hold space for members, veterans, or families of veterans who believe that censoring black history is acceptable behavior,” Friend said in a statement.
He said the censoring was premeditated and planned by Garrison and Suchan.
“They knew exactly when to turn the volume down and when to turn it back up,” Friend said.
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.
Kemter, who spent 30 years in the Army and served in the Persian Gulf War, told The Beacon Journal he was disappointed that the organizers silenced two minutes of his 11-minute speech.
His microphone cut out just as began talking 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.
Kemter at first thought there was a problem with audio, tapping on the microphone.
The decision to silence him disrespected Kemter and all veterans, Hudson’s mayor and City Council said in a statement Thursday.
“Veterans have done everything we have asked of them during their service to this country, and this tarnished what should have been a celebration of their service,” the statement said.