Ethics Hero: Keisha Thomas

Keisha Thomas

It is never too late to recognize an Ethics Hero, and thanks to a recent retrospective by the BBC, Ethics Alarms can salute Keisha Thomas, who 17 years ago exhibited both courage and other outstanding ethical values like kindness, sacrifice, responsibility, empathy and valor, by coming to the rescue of a man who would never have done the same for her.

In 1996, Keshia Thomas was just 18. The Ku Klux Klan held a rally in her home town, Ann Arbor, Michigan, then as now a college town and a bastion of liberalism. Predictably and as planned by the KKK, plenty of local protesters gathered to jeer the white robed marchers and to show their contempt.Thomas stood with a group of anti-KKK demonstrators on the other side of a security fence, as police in riot gear positioned themselves between the angry demonstrators and the Klan members. One of the anti-Klan counter-demonstrators spotted a white, middle-aged man with an SS tattoo on his arm and wearing a Confederate flag T-shirt  standing among the spectators.  “There’s a Klansman in the crowd!”  she shouted into her megaphone, and a group of protesters began to chase him, shouting threats and “Kill the Nazi!” He was knocked to the ground, and the group, now a mob, began kicking him and hitting him with wooden bases of their placards.

Thomas, an African-American girl still in high school, came to his rescue. She forced herself between the mob and their victim, fell to her knees, draped herself over him and became his shield, saving the stranger from serious injury.

“I knew what it was like to be hurt,” she told the BBC. “The many times that that happened, I wish someone would have stood up for me.” This, of course, is Golden Rule reasoning in action. The fact that the man never thanked her or contacted her after the incident neither surprised nor disillusioned Keisha. She was encouraged, however, by the fact that the man’s son later approached her in gratitude.  “For the most part, people who hurt… they come from hurt. It is a cycle,” she now says. “Let’s say they had killed him or hurt him really bad. How does the son feel? Does he carry on the violence?”

Keisha Thomas sounds like, and certainly acted like, the epitome of the rare human being for whom ethical conduct is as natural as breathing. Like most ethics heroes, she doesn’t dwell on her own heroism. Today she is 35, living in Houston, Texas, and says that she is focused upon the good she can do in the future.  Thomas tries to do something to ease racial discord every day, she says, believing that routine acts of kindness are more important, and ultimately more effective, than the grand gestures that get national attention. Her motto:

“The biggest thing you can do is just be kind to another human being. It can come down to eye contact, or a smile. It doesn’t have to be a huge monumental act.”

Keisha Thomas.

Ethics Hero.



Facts and Graphic: BBC

17 thoughts on “Ethics Hero: Keisha Thomas

  1. Yeah, this happened every year. I always wondered if the KKK used this as a hazing ritual for new members. They were almost all from out of state and the good liberals of Ann Arbor would shout, spit, and occasionally throw bricks at them. It was great PR for the KKK to their intended audience. The KKK led a peaceful, quiet march according to their rights and their opponents thoroughly disgraced themselves with their conduct. I always thought the best response would be to evacuate the area and have the Klan march through completely deserted streets, with no audience in sight.

    It took a lot of guts for Thomas to stand up to that mob. I’m not surprised she didn’t get any thanks from the guy she helped and I hope no one retaliated against her. The political correctness in the People’s Republic of Ann Arbor can be incredible.

    • One of the guys who was important in the founding of the modern neonazi movement was born in Normal, IL, and I’m told they used to have a rally there every year…

      They stopped because I guess they got sick of the odd rain that looked like rocks and such that always happened.

      • They stopped because I guess they got sick of the odd rain that looked like rocks and such that always happened.

    • The KKK actually had a strong following in MI – not far from Ann Arbor — at least back in the 80s and 90s. This guy lived about 30-40 minutes from the campus. And the fact that he lived there drew the crazies from across the country.

      Jack is right that Ann Arbor is crazy liberal — but it’s nestled between some pretty conservative and/or rural areas which makes its liberal urban identity even more bizarre. MI also is very segregated, and that has not changed much, although I will admit that change is happening. Growing up in rural MI, I can say that the vast majority of people hated the KKK, but seeing a burning cross or a handful of guys in white robes wasn’t out of the ordinary either unfortunately.

      • Was Miles the crazy guy in Howell that would call the press to make blatantly racist announcements a couple of times a year when he was lonely? He called himself a grand wizard or dragon of the KKK, but friends told me he was really just a lonely old man and liked the attention.

        • He DID live in Howell, but I don’t know about the press statements. He was a leader in the Klan for some time though, and frequently there were higher-up type meetings at his place and pilgramages. The local townspeople didn’t like it one bit. I grew up one town over and it was a constant source of embarassment.

    • Agreed with the best response. I’m from MI although not Ann Arbor, and when some NeoNazi group or other marched in our city I supported the movement to abandon the area rather than giving them their backdrop of seething rage to rally the troops. Didn’t work too well, unfortunately.

    • I’ve always been tempted to organize a “drive-by” counter-protest, where people gather, plant signs, then leave before the protesters actually arrive. Sort of a “we want to actively disapprove of you, but we also want you to know that you’re so not worth our time”.

    • As I recall, it was BAMN who provoked the violence that Keisha tried to stop — some Ann Arbor Peacekeepers intervened also —

  2. Well this young woman’s parents if they still alive should give themselves credit for raising such a heroic woman. It would have be so easy to just watch in horror when this incident happened.

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