Just over four minutes after Barnard Kemter spoke at a memorial service hosted by the American Legion Post in Hudson, Ohio, an unusual thing happened: his microphone was muted.
Mr Kemter, 77, a retired army lieutenant colonel who served in the Persian Gulf War, had admitted formerly enslaved black Americans to being among the first to pay tribute to fallen soldiers after the Civil War when its audio was cut on Monday. .
Shortly after, he said in an interview on Thursday, he learned that he had been intentionally muted by the event’s organizers, who disapproved of his post.
Now the leader of the Ohio American Legion is ask for resignation of two of the event’s organizers, and the organization has opened an investigation into it.
“Like everyone else, I thought it was a technical difficulty,” said Mr Kemter, who tapped the microphone to see if it was on and continued his speech in front of a few hundred people. people with his unamplified voice.
The two organizers called to resign, Cindy Suchan-Rothgery and James Garrison, did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday.
But in an interview this week with Akron’s Beacon JournalMs Suchan-Rothgery admitted that she or Mr Garrison – she did not specify – had turned off Mr Kemter’s microphone for two minutes. She told the newspaper that Mr. Kemter’s story “was irrelevant to our agenda for the day” and that the “theme for the day was to honor the Hudson veterans”.
The episode quickly drew the attention of the international community to the solemn celebration in Hudson, a town of some 22,000 people about 15 miles north of Akron, Ohio, at a time when the country relied on injustice. racial.
Until that moment, the service was like countless others that take place on each Remembrance Day. There was the tap dance, the reading of the names of members of the local armed forces who died in the service of the nation and the laying of wreaths.
The Ohio American Legion said on Twitter Thursday that the group’s commander, Roger Friend, had called for the resignation of Ms Suchan-Rothgery and Mr Garrison. He also noted that he had opened an investigation.
Mr Friend said in an email Thursday evening that he would not comment until the investigation was completed.
In a statement released Thursday Twitter, James W. Oxford, the national commander of the American Legion, praised Mr. Kemter for his efforts to highlight the “important role played by black Americans in honoring our fallen heroes”.
“We regret any actions taken which undermine this important message,” said Oxford. “Whatever the outcome of the investigation, National Headquarters is very clear that the American Legion deplores racism and respects the Constitution. “
Mr Kemter, who grew up in Hudson and was invited by the local American Legion station to speak at the event, said he researched his 11-minute speech and had it practiced several times.
As a courtesy to the event organizers, he said, he sent a copy of his speech to Ms Suchan-Rothgery three days before the service. Sunday, he said, she responded.
“She just said she wanted changes made,” said Mr. Kemter, who lives in Pataskala, Ohio, more than two hours from Hudson.
Mr Kemter said Ms Suchan-Rothgery forgot to keep her notes on the word processor he sent her, so he just continued with his Remembrance Day speech.
“I didn’t have time to rewrite a speech,” he said.
Taking the microphone, Mr. Kemter mentioned his roots in Hudson and said Memorial Day was a “day of solemn contemplation on the cost of our freedoms.” He said the observance was born out of necessity when the nation was faced with the task of burying 600,000 to 800,000 civil war dead.
“Memorial Day was first commemorated by an organized group of black slaves freed less than a month after Confederation surrendered,” he said Monday, citing research by David W. Blight, professor of history at Yale University.
On May 1, 1865, said Mr. Kemter, a large group of former slaves held a tribute to the Union soldiers who died in what had been a Confederate POW camp in Charleston, SC
“The ceremony reportedly included a parade of 10,000 people, including 3,000 African American schoolchildren singing the Union March song, ‘John Brown’s Body’,” he said.
It was at this point that Mr. Kemter’s microphone was cut off.
“It’s sad that he had to develop like this,” he said. “My whole intention in the speech was to be informative, educational, and to honor African American contributions to Memorial Day service and traditions.”