We often celebrate acts of kindness between strangers, but here’s one that’s getting a lot of interest due to who the two strangers were: a black teenager and a suspected white supremacist.
It was 1996 and a Ku Klux Klan rally was being held in Ann Arbor, MI. Only about 17 “klansmen” showed up to be met by hundreds of counter-protesters. Keshia Thomas, then 18 at the time, was among the counter-protestors and found herself saving a man with an “SS” Nazi tattoos wearing a Confederate flag shirt from the imminent beat down he was facing. During the counter rally, the crowd turned on him and chased after him. Thomas put herself between the man and the protestors, an act that if reversed probably wouldn’t have gone the same way. Yet, Thomas chose to intervene.
The BBC, recounting the event, republished the dramatic photos from that day.
From the BBC:
There were shouts of “Kill the Nazi” and the man began to run – but he was knocked to the ground. A group surrounded him, kicking him and hitting him with the wooden sticks of their placards.
Mob mentality had taken over. “It became barbaric,” says Thomas.
“When people are in a crowd they are more likely to do things they would never do as an individual. Someone had to step out of the pack and say, ‘This isn’t right.’”
So the teenager, then still at high school, threw herself on top of a man she did not know and shielded him from the blows.
“When they dropped him to the ground, it felt like two angels had lifted my body up and laid me down.”
For Mark Brunner, a student photographer who witnessed the episode, it was who she saved that made Thomas’ actions so remarkable.
“She put herself at physical risk to protect someone who, in my opinion, would not have done the same for her,” he says. “Who does that in this world?”
This act of selflessness is all the more remarkable considering it’s likely this man came to protest her very right to existing and living freely, leaving open the question: if left with the same choice would we have done the same? Thomas said after the incident a man approached her to thank her at a coffee shop and the man was the son of the man she protected that day.
For Thomas, the fact that the man had a son gave her actions even greater significance – she had potentially prevented further violence.
“For the most part, people who hurt… they come from hurt. It is a cycle. Let’s say they had killed him or hurt him really bad. How does the son feel? Does he carry on the violence?”