© 2022 WKSU
Public Radio News for Northeast Ohio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Speaker's Comments About Freed Slaves and Original Memorial Day Censored at Hudson Event

Hudson Community Television
Cindy Suchan (left) chairs the Hudson Memorial Day Committee. She told the Beacon Journal that during a speech by retired Lt. Col. Barney Kemter (right), his discussion of what some historians call the first Memorial Day -- when about 3,000 Black schoolchildren joined a ceremony to honor fallen Union soldiers -- was 'not relevant.'

This story was updated June 3, 8:05 p.m., with a statement from the American Legion — Department of Ohio (below).

Organizers of Hudson’s Memorial Day ceremony are facing questions about censoring a retired Lieutenant Colonel for discussing the role of freed slaves in what some historians call the first Memorial Day.

On Monday, as Barney Kemter addressed the crowd, organizers admit to muting the sound system for about two minutes.

“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.’ They were carrying armfuls of flowers and went to decorate the graves. Interesting that there would be a tie back to Hudson with that song,” Kemter said.

His mic was cut at that point, as he discussed what happened at a former Confederate POW camp in South Carolina on May 1, 1865 – just after the Civil War.

The censored portion of retired Lt. Col. Kemter's speech
On the origins of Memorial Day

Kemter tells the Akron Beacon Journal that he was asked to modify his speech before the ceremony. The chair of the Memorial Day committee, Cindy Suchan, says the origin story was “not relevant” to the event.

Lt. Col. Kemter's entire speech begins just after the 46-minute mark in the video below. Hudson Community Television captured the entire speech — including the censored portion — using a nearby shotgun microphone.

Memorial Day 2021

Statement from the Facebook page of the American Legion — Department of Ohio:

It is clear and evident through the statement sent to our Department that the Officers of American Legion Post 464 intentionally censored Lt. Col Bernard Kemter, US Army (Ret.) during his Memorial Day speech hosted by American Legion Post 464 of Hudson, Ohio.
This action was highly inconsiderate and proved to be a feeble judgment call made by the Officers of Post 464 and not at all aligned with the Principles, Pillars, and People, of The American Legion. Not acknowledging or discussing history that involves people of a different race and color is akin to eliminating or making invisible the fact that people of color exist and were/are part of this vital piece of history regarding a ceremony that veterans, families of veterans, and community members, hold reverent.
Therefore, Department Commander Roger Friend asks for the resignation of James E. Garrison, Post 464 Adjutant, and Cindy Suchan, Auxiliary President of Post 464 effective immediately. A formal letter from Commander Roger Friend has been sent to the said parties and a decision for the existence of this Post and a trial-board hearing for this incident is currently pending.

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.