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Organizers Cut Army Vet’s Mic During Speech About Memorial Day Being Rooted In Black History

The 77-year-old veteran honored formerly enslaved Black people who have gone uncredited for the holiday’s origins.

Retired Army Lt. Col. Barnard Kemter, 77, gives a speech at a Memorial Day event in Hudson, Ohio on May 31, 2021. | Vimeo/ Hudson Community Television
Retired Army Lt. Col. Barnard Kemter, 77, gives a speech at a Memorial Day event in Hudson, Ohio on May 31, 2021. | Vimeo/ Hudson Community Television

An Army veteran’s microphone was intentionally cut off during his speech at a Memorial Day event as he honored formerly enslaved Black people who have gone uncredited for the holiday’s origins.

Retired Army Lt. Col. Barnard Kemter, 77, was giving a keynote speech in Hudson, Ohio on Monday when an event organizer cut the audio. Kemter laughed and joked to the crowd, “This is why you moved in closer” and continued on, video showed. He later told The Washington Post he thought the disruption was “a technical glitch.”

The Ohio American Legion, which hosted the event, tweeted on Wednesday that it was “aware of an incident” during the Memorial Day event and was investigating. The legion also said it would “take disciplinary action if necessary.”

During his speech, Kemter said many have tried to claim credit for inventing the U.S. holiday, which honors fallen military veterans. But historians have discovered through newspaper clippings and handwritten notes that a group of formerly enslaved Black people commemorated the first Memorial Day “less than a month after the Confederacy surrendered” following the Civil War, according to Kemter.

He continued to say Memorial Day dates back to a “moving ceremony” on May 1, 1865 in Charleston, SC where thousands marched in a parade and decorated soldiers’ graves with flowers.

“In [the] following years, it was the African Americans in the south who perpetuated and kept alive the Memorial Day tradition,” Kemter said in his speech after the mic was turned off.

Cindy Suchan, the president of the Hudson American Legion Auxiliary, confirmed to the Akron Beacon Journal that organizers switched off the audio. She said it was either her or her colleague Jim Garrison who turned the mic off, because she said the Black history part of the speech “was not relevant to our program for the day.”

Suchan told the Beacon Journal that ahead of the speech, organizers had requested Kemter “modify his speech, and he chose not to do that.”

Kemter said he didn’t have time to write another speech and continued on with the one he had. After Kemter finished the part of Memorial Day’s connection to Black history, the microphone was switched back on.

“Throughout history, there has been a lot of claims about who actually performed the first Memorial Day service,” Kemter told The Post. “With this speech, I chose to educate people as to the origin of Memorial Day and why we were celebrating it.”

Kemter didn’t know until after he finished his speech that the mic had been turned off on purpose, according to the Beacon Journal, because the event’s audio engineer A.J. Stokes apologized to him and said the organizers did it themselves.

Despite organizers attempting to silence the Army veteran, Kemter said the speech was “well-received” and that many people told him afterward, “I never knew that.”

“A lot of people viewed this as a healing speech and paying a tribute to the African Americans that started Memorial Day,” Kemter told the Post.

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