The head of an American Legion post in Ohio stepped down after he cut a veteran’s microphone during a speech Monday referencing how Black people organized the earliest Memorial Day commemoration on record, according to the veterans group.
Jim Garrison resigned after he was asked by Legion officials, the American Legion Department of Ohio said in a statement Friday. The veterans group said Garrison and Cindy Suchan, chair of the Memorial Day parade committee and president of the Hudson American Legion Auxiliary, decided to “censor” retired Army Lt. Col. Barnard Kemter in a “premeditated” move. Kemter shared his Memorial Day speech in advance with Suchan, who asked him to remove a part of his speech, and he didn’t, according to the department.
“They knew exactly when to turn the volume down and when to turn it back up,” the statement 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,” it also said.
At the memorial event, Kemter spoke in front of an audience of 300 people at the Markillie Cemetery in Hudson about the day’s history. When he began talking about how Black people honored Union soldiers who died as prisoners of war by giving them a proper burial, decorating their graves with flowers and organizing a parade to honor them, his microphone cut off. Video shows Kemter at first calling for technical assistance, believing it was a glitch.
The audio problem didn’t deter the veteran, who continued in his “Army command voice,” the 77-year-old veteran told The Washington Post.
After the event, the audio engineer told Kemter that event organizers had tampered with the volume. Kemter, surrounded by audience members who were appreciative of his speech, did not confront Garrison or Suchan.
Instead, Kemter handed out four printed copies of his speech that he had brought with him and left the cemetery.
He said he wasn’t given guidance when writing his speech, but later an organizer who he did not name asked him to “leave out the part of history of it” without specifying what to remove or why. He chose to deliver his speech as he wrote it.
“Throughout history, there has been a lot of claims about who actually performed the first Memorial Day service,” Kemter said. “With this speech, I chose to educate people as to the origin of Memorial Day and why we were celebrating it.”
Garrison and Suchan could not be reached for comment.
A representative for the department did not immediately respond to an inquiry Friday night.
Suzette Heller, the state Legion’s department adjutant, told the Akron Beacon Journal that Suchan was also asked to resign by Legion officials but has not.
The post’s charter is also suspended “pending permanent closure,” the department said.
The 58-member post can respond to the complaint against them, but Heller told the newspaper that no member has reached out. If they don’t respond, the American Legion Department of Ohio will collect the post’s possessions and move its members to another post, and the post property will be secured by the state, the Beacon Journal reported.
Suchan previously told the newspaper it was either her or Garrison who turned down the audio as Kemter spoke.
“We asked him to modify his speech, and he chose not to do that,” Suchan said in an interview.
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