It’s time to turn up the volume.
We need to hear the truth. Louder than ever.
They say the truth will set you free, but first it can hurt like hell.
That’s why so many white folks are getting squirmy. They’re uncomfortable with the truth. They can’t handle the truth. So, they silence those who speak it.
On Memorial Day, American Legion program organizers in the Cleveland suburb of Hudson cut off a decorated veteran’s microphone for two minutes to censor him.
A combat medic who served this country from 1965 to 1995 was denied his free speech at a cemetery to commemorate those who died to preserve and protect that freedom of speech promised in our Bill of Rights.
Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Barnard Kemter, who is white, was doing fine until he mentioned the “remarkable discovery in a dusty Harvard archive.” A group of Black freed slaves were the first to commemorate Memorial Day barely a month after the Confederacy surrendered.
That’s when someone hit the mute button. That’s when they silenced the decorated veteran who paused to tap on the mic to see why it suddenly quit working.
An event organizer told the Akron Beacon Journal the mention of Black history wasn’t “relevant” to the program for the day so they deliberately turned down the volume.
Kemter was talking about the book Yale University historian and Pulitzer Prize winner David Blight wrote about the commemoration freed slaves and white missionaries performed on May 1, 1865, in Charleston, S.C. You can read about it in “Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory.”
Some 250 Union soldiers died at a racetrack after Confederates held them prisoner during the last year of the war. They were buried in unmarked graves, so local Black residents exhumed their bodies and gave them a proper burial with honors.
Time magazine wrote: “About 10,000 people, mostly black residents, participated in the May 1 tribute, according to coverage back then in the Charleston Daily Courier and the New York Tribune.”
“Starting at 9 a.m., about 3,000 black schoolchildren paraded around the racetrack holding roses and singing the Union song ‘John Brown’s Body’… Participants sang patriotic songs like ‘America’ and ‘We’ll Rally around the Flag’ and ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’”
“The grave sites looked like a ‘one mass of flowers’ and ‘the breeze wafted the sweet perfumes from them’ and ‘tears of joy’ were shed.”
“This tribute gave birth to an American tradition,’” Blight wrote. “The war was over, and Memorial Day had been founded by African Americans in a ritual of remembrance and consecration.”
Black people started Memorial Day. How could that not be relevant in a Memorial Day tribute?
Kemter was disappointed his speech was censored and told a reporter, “This is not the same country I fought for.”
Sadly, it is.
It’s the same country that kidnapped, raped, tortured and ripped children from their parents to sell as property to the highest bidder.
It’s the same country whose Constitution was written by all white men, many who owned slaves.
It’s the same country that allowed 620,000 soldiers to die in a Civil War that lasted four years over the right to own Black people as property.
It’s the same country that created Jim Crow laws to deny Black people access to those unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
It’s the same country that turned slave catchers into the first law enforcement officers and turned Black people into free prison labor to continue a different form of slavery.
It’s the same country that honored the “father of gynecology,” a man who experimented on Black women slaves, doing surgical techniques without anesthesia, the same country that allowed 128 Black men to die from syphilis during a study that treated Black men like lab rats, refusing to give them penicillin even when they went blind or insane from untreated syphilis.
It’s the same country that empowers police officers to abuse their power and kill countless black men and women in the name of “justice.”
We can erase the words “white privilege” from our vocabularies, deny the existence of critical race theory, refuse to teach it in our schools and pretend our race issues ended when slavery ended.
Or we can face the truth so it can transform our hearts and minds by opening them wider. We can examine how faulty ideas of race shaped our schools, legal system, prison system, voting system, economy and entire social and power structure as a nation.
All over this country, schools are facing renewed pressure to white-wash history and ban critical race theory instead of learning from it.
White fragility is real. We’re so fragile we can’t handle a veteran giving thanks to Black people for creating a holiday we all cherish.
There’s a powerful saying, “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.”
That’s truth talking.
It is emerging to set us all free.