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A veteran’s microphone was cut during part of a Memorial Day speech that touched on Black people’s role in the holiday

Andrew Cuomo

The American Legion of Ohio said Thursday it is investigating a Memorial Day incident in which a keynote speaker’s microphone was turned off during part of his speech that touched on Black people’s historical role in creating the national holiday.

Retired Army Lt. Col. Barnard Kemter was speaking at the ceremony held by a local chapter in Hudson when his microphone was lowered for nearly two minutes during a portion of his 11-minute speech, according to a news release.

Video of the event from public access channel Hudson Community Television shows the microphone cutting out, Kemter tapping the microphone and then asking someone to address the sound problem. Kemter can be seen continuing on with his speech without the microphone.

“I assumed it was a technical glitch,” Kemter told The Washington Post.

The American Legion of Ohio said it was “investigating this incident thoroughly,” adding that the actions “of the individuals in question do not represent the beliefs of the American Legion Department of Ohio and its members nor will they ever be tolerated.”

Kemter, in an interview with the Akron Beacon Journal, said he found it interesting that the Legion “would take it upon themselves to censor my speech and deny me my First Amendment right to (freedom of) speech.”

“This is not the same country I fought for,” Kemter added.

The speech was at Markillie Cemetery in Hudson, nearly 15 miles northeast of Akron. According to the American Legion of Ohio release, the event organizers asked Kemter to change parts of his speech before the event.

“Mr. Kemter did not adjust his speech and showed the speech to a Hudson public official, who advised Mr. Kemter to leave the speech intact,” the release said. “These events culminated in Mr. Kemter’s microphone being shut off by an unknown person during the portion of the speech event organizers requested be changed beforehand.”

In a letter, Democratic state Rep. Casey Weinstein told Suzette Heller, the department adjutant for the American Legion Department of Ohio, that the “blatant act of censorship” was intended to scrub Kemter’s reference to the role of freedmen in the Union Army and the subsequent establishment of Memorial Day.

“As a Hudson resident, a veteran of the United States Air Force, and the past Ranking Member of the Ohio House Armed Services and Veterans Affairs Committee, I find the censorship of Lt. Col. Kemter profoundly alarming,” Weinstein wrote.

National Commander James W. “Bill” Oxford assured that the Ohio American Legion would be conducting a full investigating.

“Regardless of the investigation’s outcome, the national headquarters is very clear that The American Legion deplores racism and reveres the Constitution,” Oxford said in a statement. “We salute LTC Kemter’s service and his moving remarks about the history of Memorial Day and the important role played by Black Americans in honoring our fallen heroes. We regret any actions taken that detracts from this important message.”

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