Keshia Thomas’ story is one of bravery and kindness that is rare in the world. She did not only prevent a man perceived to be her enemy’s death, she put her life on the line while doing it.
In June 1996, one of the branches of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), an American white supremacist hate group started in the 1660s to suppress and victimize newly freed slaves, publicized plans to hold a rally in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
In response to the KKK announcement, people in the Ann Arbor area also planned to hold a protest against the Ku Klux Klan’s presence on the day of the rally. Keshia Thomas was one of many people who attended and protested from an area that had been fenced and set aside for the marchers.
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During the protest, one of the members identified a “Klansman” among them. The man was wearing a Confederate flag T-shirt and had an SS tattoo on his arm. He took to his heels and a moment of chaos ensued. The protesters caught up with the unnamed man, knocked him to the ground and began to beat him.
Keshia Thomas jumped between the protesters and the “Klansman” and shielded him from their blows despite his racist regalia.
Photographer Marc Brunner captured the moment so perfectly. The image went viral. It has been considered to be iconic in nature and was named one of Life magazine’s “Pictures of the Year” for 1996.
Thomas was only 18 when this happened. She became a sought-after voice advocating tolerance amidst hatred. Thomas never heard from the man after that day but months later, a young man came up to her to say thanks, telling her that the man she had protected was his father. For Thomas, learning that he had a son brought even greater significance to her heroic act.
In 2017, she was spotted continuing the remarkable moment of 21 years in the volunteer work of helping with Hurricane Harvey relief.
Take a look at some photos of the incident below: