Editorial: Taking time to listen is wise move; trying to silence others is not

Recent events show how history repeats itself.

As you probably have read in the Beacon Journal, a retired Army officer’s microphone was cut for the portion of his Memorial Day speech in Hudson in which he described Black Americans as possibly the first to commemorate the holiday.

You also may have read about the Canton McKinley football coaches who were fired for allegedly forcing a player to eat pork after he told them it was against his religious beliefs.

You also may have read that some Ohio legislators are introducing bills to protect Ohio students from history lessons based on “critical race theory” because they may induce “discomfort, guilt, anguish” or “psychological distress.”

Also in Hudson, the school district is investigating students’ use of a phone app video game in which racial and homophobic comments were made.

The Canton coaches may face criminal hazing charges; police are investigating. Hudson police have been made aware of the game players’ offensive comments. The folks who cut the microphone at the Hudson ceremony are being tried in the court of public opinion — Twitter, Facebook and national and international websites.

It’s easy enough to say the young gamers are wrong. Stop the hate and don’t be a bully, kids.

What to say to the Hudson ceremony organizers, the Canton coaches and Ohio legislators is more difficult. Are any likely to start listening?

We’re pleased to know that the head coach and six assistants were fired in Canton. The incident is horrifying not only because someone’s religious beliefs may have been violated, but because forcing a teen in their care to eat a whole pizza, regardless of whether it was topped with a pork product, is demeaning and inappropriate.

Fortunately, the two ceremony organizers in Hudson are being held accountable. In a tweet Thursday, the American Legion of Ohio’s commander Roger Friend announced he has requested the resignation of officers James Garrison and Cindy Suchan of Post 464. The commander says a full investigation and review of the post’s charter are pending. (Editor’s Note: Cindy Suchan, chair of the Memorial Day parade committee and president of the Hudson American Legion Auxiliary, stepped down nearly a week after the ceremony, the Akron Beacon Journal reported Tuesday. Jim Garrison, adjutant of American Legion Post 464, resigned last Friday.)

Suchan, the Hudson American Legion Auxiliary president, says Army Lt. Col. Barnard Kemter’s microphone was turned down because it “was not relevant to our program for the day,” adding that the “theme of the day was honoring Hudson veterans.” Suchan has declined to say whether she or Garrison, adjutant of the post, specifically interfered with audio.

While ceremony organizers may have wanted to silence Kemter, people across the country and around the world now are listening to or reading his speech online and learning about how Blacks in South Carolina honored the fallen Union troops in the weeks after the Civil War’s end.

Kemter acknowledged there is “lively debate among historians” on whether the freed slaves were the first to celebrate Memorial Day, or Decoration Day as it was once known. What is important he said, is the attention they gave to the Union soldiers — exhuming the soldiers’ remains from a “hastily dug mass grave” and giving “each soldier a proper burial.”

All too often these days, some folks are threatened by “new” information about African Americans. Is it because white people might not be able to carry the banner of “first” and “most patriotic”? Microphones are silenced. Legislation is introduced.

We also wonder what is so wrong about revising history books. According to Kemter, the actions of the freed slaves were forgotten until researchers made “a remarkable discovery” in a Harvard archive in the late 1990s.

That wasn’t in our history books decades ago. Neither was there a mention of the Tulsa Race Massacre 100 years ago that killed hundreds of Black residents and left thousands homeless.

President Joe Biden, in marking the anniversary Tuesday, said we can’t pretend that “none of this ever happened or it doesn’t impact us today.”

“We can’t just choose to learn what we want to know and not what we should know,” Biden said.

We wish more Americans would take the time to listen with an open mind. Alas, Biden’s thoughtful statement will be dismissed as just the words of a Democrat.

Examples of racism, ignorance or profound indifference shouldn’t just be brushed off or covered up. We should learn from history. Unfortunately, there are laws (or soon will be) against that.

— Akron Beacon Journal, June 6