The audio was cut on a veteran’s microphone at a Memorial Day event in Hudson, Ohio, shortly after he began discussing the role Black people played in the holiday’s origins in an incident that local media report was no accident.
According to the Akron Beacon Journal, the incident occurred during an event marking the holiday at a local cemetery on Monday, just minutes after retired Army Lt. Col. Barnard Kemter started to deliver remarks.
During his speech, Kemter, whom the Journal reported was the keynote speaker for the event, discussed the history of the holiday, including the discovery of newspaper clippings and handwritten notes that showed a group of freed Black people were among the first to commemorate the holiday following the surrender of the Confederacy.
“In recent years, the origins of how and where 'Decoration Day' began has sparked lively debate amongst historians. However, Yale historian David Blight, asserting the holiday is rooted in a moving ceremony, [said it] was conducted by freed slaves on May 1, 1865, at the tattered remains of a Confederate prisoner of war camp,” he stated. “It was a Charleston Washington Race Course and Jockey Club today known as Hampton Park.”
“The ceremony is believed to have included a parade of as many as 10,000 people, including 3,000 African American schoolchildren singing the Union marching song, ‘John Brown's Body,’ ” he said. “They were carrying armfuls of flowers and went to decorate at the graves.”
But about a minute after, Kemter’s microphone was cut roughly halfway through his address. The veteran could be seen trying to alert someone off-camera about his microphone after realizing something was wrong, continuing to address the audience.
According to the Journal, an organizer for the event confirmed to the outlet that either she or another organizer had the audio cut.
The organizer, Cindy Suchan, told the paper that the portion of Kemter’s speech in which the audio was cut “was not relevant to our program for the day” and that the “theme of the day was honoring Hudson veterans.”
Suchan, whom the paper reported also headed the local Memorial Day parade committee and the Hudson American Legion Auxiliary, told the Journal that she or another organizer, Jim Garrison, had Kemter’s audio turned down, but wouldn’t confirm who.
During that portion of the speech, Kemter spoke about how, two weeks prior to the ceremony in Charleston, the “former slaves and workmen exhumed a mass grave of 240 Union soldiers and officers” and “took those remains and buried them individual graves with honors.”
“Each soldier was given a proper burial,” he said, while adding that African Americans “also constructed a fence to protect the cemetery site and erected a sign over the entrance.”
Suchan told the paper that she asked Kemter to take out certain parts of the speech ahead of the event. She told the Journal that parts of the portion of Kemter’s speech in which his microphone was turned down were included in what she previously asked Kemter to take out.
Kemter also told the paper that an organizer emailed him days before the event asking that a portion of his address that pertained to Black people’s role in the origins of the holiday be taken out.
Kemter told the paper that, during the time that his microphone was cut, he thought the incident was an accident. But he said he was later told by the audio engineer for the event, A.J. Stokes, that “it was not a malfunction.”
Stokes also told the paper that he refused to turn Kemter’s audio down when asked and that Garrison did so and that Garrison was the one who cut the audio. The paper said Garrison wouldn't say when asked if he did.
“That was very improper. I would’ve never done something like that,” Stokes said, adding he was “very upset” over the incident.