In 1996, the Ku Klux Klan announced its plans to hold a rally in Keshia Thomas' hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Like many who were staunchly against the white supremacist group, 18-year-old Keshia joined other anti-KKK protestors that day in what was intended to be a peaceful demonstration against the Klan's hatred. But Keshia had no idea that the event ― and her role in it ― would still have a powerful impact decades later.
As Keshia stood with other demonstrators in a designated area, someone with a megaphone shouted that a Klansman was among the protest group.
He was a middle-aged white man with an SS tattoo and a Confederate flag T-shirt. He began to run, but was knocked to the ground by the mob. Several protestors surrounded the man, kicking and hitting him. Then Keshia stepped in.
Instinctively, the teen threw her body over the alleged Nazi, risking her life to protect his own. A photographer named Mark Brunner snapped a photo of the moment, which went on to become one of Life magazine's "Pictures of the Year."
(Photo credit: Getty)
Two years after the incident, Keshia appeared on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and shared what made her use her body as a shield to help a person believed to be filled with racism and bigotry.
"It was the right thing to do," she said back then. "He was still a human being."
It's now been 20 years since Keshia's courageous act. "Oprah: Where Are They Now?" followed up with her to learn how that day impacted her life, and as Keshia explains in the above video, the aftermath included mixed reactions.
"All of a sudden, I'm in Life magazine and Oprah's calling... I was overwhelmed and amazed," Keshia says. "Now, on the flip side of that coin, I got a lot of hate mail. 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."
Related: Learn more about the history of the KKK:
Ku Klux Klan (KKK) throughout history
Ku Klux Klan (KKK) throughout history
Ku Klux Klansmen ring a 15-foot cross before setting it afire at a rally near Windham Center, Pennsylvania, Saturday, Dec. 2, 1974. Only about a dozen robed Klansmen were among some 65 persons who turned out for the rally in freezing cold. (AP Photo)
FILE - In this Sept. 21, 1923 file photo, members of the Ku Klux Klan ride horses during a parade through the streets of Tulsa, Okla. Former Sheriff Bill McCullough, who tried to stop the parade, is at foreground left. John Hartvigsen, a flag scholar, says flags' power _ to unite or divide _ is only as great as the significance people assign to them. (AP Photo)
Ku Klux Klan members parade past the U.S. Treasury building in Washington, D.C. in 1925. (AP Photo)
Hundreds of female members of the Ku Klux Klan march in the Memorial Day parade in Atlanta, Ga., on April 26, 1936. The parade was held in memorial of the Confederate dead. (AP Photo)
A hangman's noose dangling from an automobile, driven by a hooded Ku Klux Klan member, is among the grim warnings for blacks to stay away from the voting places in the municipal primary election at Miami, Florida, May 3, 1939. In spite of the threats, 616 blacks voted. (AP Photo)
Members of the Ku Klux Klan, wearing traditional white hoods and robes, stand back and watch with their arms crossed after burning a 15-foot cross at Tampa, Fla., Jan. 30, 1939. (AP Photo)
Two little mascots, equipped with their own robes and hoods, flank Dr. Samuel Green, Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon, in Atlanta, Georgia, July 23, 1948, during a massive initiation ceremony of seven hundred members of the Ku Klux Klan. (AP Photo)
Ku Klux Klansmen burned a cross before the Emanuel County Courthouse, Swainsboro, Georgia, USA, Feb. 4th, 1948. They paraded in full regalia for the first time since the nineteen-twenties, when the klan was in its heyday. (AP Photo)
Men and women members of the Ku Klux Klan, in traditional white hoods and robes, march into the Inman Yards Baptist Church to attend regular Sunday evening services in Atlanta, Ga., Jan. 16, 1949. (AP Photo)
Riding mules and carrying a fiery cross, some 50 or 60 robed and hooded Klansmen parade at a rally near Whiteville, N.C., August 19, 1951. Thomas L. Hamilton of Leesville, S.C., Grand Dragon of the Carolinas Klan, said "The Klan will again progress in North Carolina." The rally attracted an estimated 5,000 spectators. (AP Photo)
A black woman watches as robed Ku Klux Klansmen walk in downtown Montgomery, Alabama, prior to a cross burning rally that night, November 24, 1956. Circulars advertising Klan meeting said, "We believe in white supremacy, we need you -- you need us." Blacks have boycotted city buses for nearly a year in protest against segregation. (AP Photo)
Ku Klux Klansmen carry torches and march around a large burning cross at a KKK rally in Spartanburg, S.C., Saturday, Aug. 17, 1963. A crowd of some 2,000 persons heard an address by Robert Shelton, imperial wizard of United Klans of American, Inc. at the rally. (AP Photo)
A North Carolina Klan rally. The Ku Klux Klan, silent and almost unnoticed in North Carolina in recent years, has started a drive for money and members. This picture was made at a cross burning at Salisbury, N.C., Aug. 8, 1964. It was one of the first rallies scheduled in the KKK's revival efforts in North Carolina. A rally is planned Saturday at Farmville, a community 55 miles east of Raleigh. (AP-Photo)
Klan Rally - Knights of the Ku Klux Klan march in a circle around a 50 ft. burning cross Sunday, June 06, 1965, as approximately 2,500 watch the closing ceremony of the rally near Trenton, N.C. (AP-Photo)
A member of the Ladies' Auxiliary of the United Klans of America, Inc., holds her young daughter, also robed in a Klan suit, at a Ku Klux Klan rally in Atlanta, Ga., on June 5, 1965. Some 600 persons attended the rally. The woman did not want to be indentified. (AP Photo)
Burning of the Cross - Ku Klux Klansmen, torches in hand, parade around a gigant flaming cross during a recent rally in North Carolina cow pasture. Each Klan rally ends with a cross burning ceremony. Long after the rally the burning cross can be seen for miles. A recording of "The Old Rugged Cross" blares from loud speakers while the cross burns. (AP-Photo) 25.7.1965
Knights of the Ku Klux Klan march in cemetery funeral rites in Chesapeake, Va., Oct. 12, 1966 for late Klansman Lillion Carlton Jernigan, 55, who died on Monday. Jernigan, whose funeral service was conducted by a Southern Baptist minister in a funeral home, was buried with Masonic rites as well as the Klan rites. (AP Photo)
The sign and the hooded figure draw attention to a Ku Klux Klan encampment on a rented meadow beside U.S. 71 near Campti, La., August 16, 1974. It was the scene of a recruitment rally for the United Klans of America, Inc., richest and most visible of the 14 separate and jealous Klan groups known to the FBI. These days, the vaunted Klan secrecy seems to hide weakness, not strength. (AP Photo)
Two women in Ku Klux Klan robes stand before a cross which was burned at a KKK rally at the head of Witcherâs Creek Hollow in Charleston, West Virginia, Saturday, Feb. 14, 1975. The women refused to give their names. The Klan has pledged to unite anti-textbook forces in Kanawha County. (AP Photo)
Ku Klux Klan members light their torches from that of their local Klan Leader Charles Carroll, right, during a membership rally in Pensacola, Florida, Saturday, May 25, 1975. (AP Photo/John Lent)
J.B. Stoner waves a Confederate flag after talking with news people outside the Cobb County Courthouse, Sept. 28, 1977, Marietta, Ga. Stoner was released on bend after surrendering to authorities after being indicted on charges of bombing a church in Birmingham, Ala. in 1958. (AP Photo/Joe Holloway Jr.)
Members of Floridaâs Ku Klux Klan, properly known as the United Klans of America and the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan marched in full force without incident in Davie, Florida, Saturday, July 8, 1978. The Klan has been trying to obtain a permit for this march for several years. It was finally granted a rally and cross-burning are scheduled. (AP Photo/Willens)
About 25 people gathered outside of KIRO radioâs downtown Seattle offices on Oct. 30, 1980, to protest the stationâs interview with David Duke, former Grand Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. (AP Photo)
Meriden police in riot garb formed a cordon at the base of the steps of City Hall in Meriden on March 23, 1981 to protect members of the Ku Klux Klan who held a rally there. Minutes later angry demonstrators tried to force their way past police, forcing the members of the Klan to seek shelter in City Hall. (AP Photo/Bob Child)
Members of the Invisible Empire Knights of the Ku Klux Klan arrive at City Hall in Meriden on March 21, 1981 under escort by Meriden police clad in full riot gear. The Klan were in Meriden to rally in support of local police. (AP Photo/Bob Child)
An unidentified couple wearing robes of the Ku Klux Klan kiss after wedding ceremony at the Paulding County Courthouse in Dallas, Georgia on Dec. 11, 1982 after a Klan march through the town. The couple refused to give their names. The march was held after the Klan was denied use of the high school gymnasium for a rally. (AP Photo/Ben Baxter)
Demonstrators scuffled with Meriden police at the base of the steps of City Hall in Meriden, Connecticut on March 23, 1981 as they sought to confront members of the Ku Klux Klan who were holding a rally there. (AP Photo/Bob Child)
Helmeted Boston police officers work to restrain an unidentified man at Bostonâs City Hall Plaza on Oct. 16, 1982 as an onlooker holds up his hands after demonstrators clashed with police during a Ku Klux Klan rally. (AP Photo/Bill Polo)
Police chase back anti Ku Klux Klan demonstrators in the parking lot of West Farms Mall shopping center in Farmington, Conn.,, Sunday, May 23, 1983. The demonstrators were protesting a proposed stop by Klan members of distribute pamphlets. Three were arrested in connection with the scuffle. (AP Photo/Child)
An anti Ku Klux Klan protester raises her fist as she presses against the police line separating Klan members and demonstrators from each other during a march and rally in College Park, Georgia, Sunday, May 28, 1983. (AP Photo/Ric Feld)
Anti-Klan demonstrators, right, heckle members of the Ku Klux Klan as a group of about fifty Klansmen arrived at the Texas Capitol following a short parade near the capitol in Austin on Saturday, Feb. 19, 1983. Four hours, several anti-Klan groups staged a parade of their own. (AP Photo/Ted Powers)
Supporters of the Ku Klux Klan help members raise the cross that was to be burned at the rally held on a farm near Masontown, Pennsylvania Saturday, July 19, 1986. (AP Photo/Keith B. Srakocic)
Wearing traditional robes of the Invisible Empire, Ku Klux Klan members form a circle around a burning cross in Rumford, Maine Saturday, Sept. 27, 1987. Lead by the groupâs national leaderr Imperial Wizard James W. Farrands, the Klan gathered on a rural farm in western Maine for a rally. (AP Photo/Scott Perry)
Unidentified man is arrested by police in Greensboro, North Carolina Sunday, June 7, 1987 after he broke through police lines during a Ku Klux Klan march. In the foreground is the manâs flag and bible. (AP Photo/Bob Jordan)
Six Ku Klux Klan marchers are surrounded by 1,000 National Guardsmen and 1,000 officers as they parade on Dr. Martin Luther King in Atlanta Saturday, Jan. 21, 1989. Counter-demonstrators clashed with police with rocks, sticks and bottles later in the march, called to protest the observance of the holiday for the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. (AP Photo/Charles Kelly)
Residents gathered to protest a Ku Klux Klan rally in Brownwood, Texas Friday, June 26, 1992 in order to draw attention away from the Klan gathering across town. Brownwood officials initially opposed the Klan rally, but the U.S. Supreme Court in June ruled that states and cities may not outlaw cross burning and âhate crimes.â (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
Twenty-six members of the Ku Klux Klan rally on the steps of the Jefferson County Courthouse Saturday, April 13, 1996, in Louisville, Ky. The Klan members and their supporters shouted their message of "white pride" from the courthouse steps while several hundred counter demonstrators shouted messages of unity from across the street. Authoritites reported no arrests and no injuries were reported during the demonstration. (AP Photo/Brian Bohannon)
A member of the Ku Klux Klan salutes to the crowd at a rally in Greensburg, Pa. Saturday, August 16, 1997. Police, who kept several hundred people from interfering with the rally, were unable to keep some protesters from throwing eggs, bottles and debris at the klan members. (AP Photo/Gary Tramontina)
Mid-Michigan skinheads shout"Sieg Heil," a Nazi salute meaning hail to victory, during a Knights of the Klu Klux Klan rally held in Caro, Mich. Saturday Sept. 27, 1997. No major violence occurred during the one and a half-hour rally. A group of about 350 protestors shouted abuse at the Klan members and their skinhead supporters. (AP Photo/The Bay City Times, Dan Staudacher)
State police guard the perimeter of the courthouse in Mercer, Pa., while the Ku Klux Klan holds a rally on the steps Saturday, Aug. 8, 1998. Some 200 people gathered to listen to members of the Klan during a rally held under heavy police presence. (AP Photo/Gary tramontina)
Members of the Church of the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan march around the Madison County Courthouse in Canton, Miss., Saturday, May 29, 1999. About 40 members of the group conducted their "informational program" at the courthouse following their brief march. All the activities ended with no incident. (AP Photo/Rogelio Solis)
A member of the Ku Klux Klan is hugged by a supporter of the death penalty while demonstrating outside the Huntsville Unit where the death chamber is located Thursday, June 22, 2000 in Huntsville, Texas. Convicted killer Gary Graham is scheduled to be executed later Thursday. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Gordon Young, a local Imperial Wizard of the World Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, marches with other KKK members, Saturday, Aug. 28, 2004, in Sharpsburg, Md. The nine participants in the march were outnumbered by more than two dozen police in riot gear who kept the Klansmen away from scores of people gathered in a downtown intersection. The police escorted the marchers to a city park, but kept the public away. (AP Photo/Timothy Jacobsen)
Members of the World Knights of the Ku Klux Klan as they march along a street, Saturday, Aug. 28, 2004, in Sharpsburg, Md. The participants in the march were outnumbered by more than two dozen police in riot gear who kept the Klansmen away from scores of people gathered in a downtown intersection. The police escorted the marchers to a city park, but kept the public away. (AP Photo/Timothy Jacobsen)
Members of the World Order of the Ku Klux Klan arrive at the Gettysburg National Military Park for a protest rally Saturday, Sept. 2, 2006 in Gettysburg, Pa. The KKK fielded 25 members for the event and their were no incidents. (AP Photo/Bradley C Bower)
An unidentified member of the Ku Klux Klan peers from beneath a hooded mask at a Ku Klux Klan rally Saturday, June 10, 2006 at the Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg, Md. About 30 people, some in white robes and others in the military-style clothing and swastika armbands of the National Socialist Movement of America, stood next to a farmhouse on the battlefield. (AP Photo/Matt Houston)
Ken Krauss of the National Socialist Movement, center, salutes with members of the Ku Klux Klan, Saturday, June 10, 2006, at the Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg, Md. About 30 people, some in white robes and others in the military-style clothing and swastika armbands of the National Socialist Movement of America, stood next to a farmhouse on the battlefield. (AP Photo/Matt Houston)
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Even so, Keshia stands firmly behind her decision to help a fellow human being. Had she not, she reasons, that man may have died.
"I do believe that people were caught up in a rage and they would have killed this man," she says. "The energy in that air was extremely violent."
Though Keshia never heard from the man, she says she did encounter someone who expressed sincere gratitude for her selfless actions.
"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... That was my dad,'" Keshia recalls.
For the lifelong activist, that interaction sums up the humanitarian aspect of why she did what she did.
"At the end of the day, this was somebody's father."
"Oprah: Where Are They Now?" airs Saturdays at 10 p.m. ET on OWN.