An African-American Woman Who Shielded a Man in a Confederate Flag Shirt | Where Are They Now | OWN
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An African-American Woman Who Shielded a Man in a Confederate Flag Shirt | Where Are They Now | OWN

In 1996, the KKK was holding
a meeting near the University of Michigan. Hundreds came out to
protest, and that’s when 18-year-old student
Keshia Thomas made headlines. She used her own body
as a human shield to protect a man wearing
a Confederate flag t-shirt as he was
being physically attacked by protesters. In 1998, I sat down
with Keshia to talk about what that was like. Keshia says that she risked
her own life because it was the right thing to do. Yeah. It’s the right thing to do. Weren’t you afraid that they
were going to then turn on you? I know you believe
in angels, but it felt like two angels had lifted
my body up and laid me down. And if you’re covered
by God, then you do what you’re supposed to do. You don’t worry
about anything else. [APPLAUSE] And so was it sort of like an
out-of-body angel experience for you? It was kind of like, for
a woman to have kids, when they see their kid in danger. You don’t think it’s a natural
reaction to kind of go in there and do what you got to do. But this wasn’t your kid. This was a white man
at a Klan rally wearing a Confederate flag t-shirt. Right. But he was still a human being. It’s been 20 years since
that photo of Keshia became a “Life” magazine
photo of the year. So we tracked her
down to find out how that day impacted her life. When I was 18 and this
whole incident happened, and all of a sudden I’m in
“Life” magazine and Oprah’s calling, and I’m just a kid
with an idea, who at the moment did the right thing, I was
overwhelmed and amazed. Now, on the flip side of that
coin, I got a lot of hate mail. And a lot of people still
to this day hate me. I get death threats,
and they want me to die because they
feel that what I’ve done is traded my race. I do believe that people
were caught up in a rage, and they would have
killed this man, just like a pack of wolves. People have taken on
the mob mentality, and the energy in that
air was extremely violent. I have never felt more
sure of what I was supposed to do than in that moment. A lot of people asked me,
did I ever make contact? Did he ever say thank you? I never heard from
this man again. But the interesting
thing about that is I was downtown at a coffee
house, back in the day, and a kid came up
to me and said, hey, I want to say thanks. I said, thanks for what? He said, that was my dad. At the end of the day,
this was somebody’s father. We marched for voting rights,
for justice in the police department and the
justice system, and that we want better
schools and education for all. We marched maybe anywhere from
18 to 22 miles during the day. And then at night we
would have a teaching in these different communities. We had people from all over, all
different walks of life, march with us. So just like Martin Luther
King and the original march had all different
people of faith, we had different students. And these college students
would come up to me, and they’re like, you’re the
Keshia that’s in my textbook, and I’d be blown away.


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