Perspective: 5 of my favorite American heroes you might not know about

President John F. Kennedy’s book “Profiles in Courage,” which won the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction in 1957, was about eight senators Kennedy believed had shown tremendous courage in the face of adversity.

In recent years, we have had other people who have shown bravery and leadership, people who have intervened on behalf of others and performed heroic acts.

These heroes have been plucked out of obscurity and catapulted into the limelight of notoriety. They will be written about in the annals of history and celebrated as champions and role models. They are African Americans, and these five heroes pose a challenge for history revisionists.

How can you say something didn’t happen when we witnessed it? How do you erase something from history when it has been uploaded, downloaded, screenshot and shared by millions of people? How do you debate the experience when it has been memed, monetized and memorialized on the internet?

You cannot.

Who are these people, you ask? Here they are:

Eugene Goodman

On Jan. 6, 2021, when Trump loyalists and rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol in opposition of the certification of Joe Biden’s election, Goodman was the lone police officer who lured the rioters away from the chambers of Congress. It was due to his quick thinking and diversionary tactics that the rioters’ identities were recorded, lives were saved and damage was minimized. Goodman was later awarded the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Citizens Medal by President Biden.

Justin Jones

A 27-year-old state representative in Tennessee, Jones was expelled by Republican lawmakers for protesting on the House floor for stricter gun control legislation. His protest was a direct result of a mass shooting at Covenant School in Nashville, where six people were killed. He was reappointed a few days later and reelected in August 2023. His radical resistance to laissez-faire and traditional politics has been heralded as heroic and iconic.


Rep. Justin Jones, D-Nashville, holds a sign in the House Civic Justice Committee of 1st Extraordinary Session meeting during a special session of the state legislature on public safety on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn.

George Walker IV, Associated Press

Justin Pearson

A 28-year-old Tennessee representative, he was expelled, along with Jones, by the Republican-controlled House for protesting on the floor for stricter gun laws. After public outcry, they were reappointed a few days after expulsion. Pearson’s unapologetic refusal of acquiescence to the status quo has merited him recognition as a national justice influencer and revolutionary.   

Ruby Jewel Freeman

A former poll worker in Fulton County, Georgia, she is the mother of Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, and both women refused to be intimidated by pressure and threats to change their statements related to the vote. For her ability to stand her ground in the face of bullies, Freeman is now recognized as a heroine and a recipient of the Presidential Citizens Medal.   


Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, a former Georgia election worker, is comforted by her mother, Ruby Freeman, right, as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol continues to reveal its findings of a year-long investigation, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, June 21, 2022. The mother and daughter who were election workers in Georgia brought the sense of danger into stark relief. They testified they feared even to say their names in public after Trump wrongly accused them of voter fraud.

Jacquelyn Martin, Associated Press

Wandrea “Shaye” Moss

Another former poll worker in Fulton County, Moss stood up to false accusations that she had processed fake ballots during the 2020 election and later testified before Congress, even though the incessant threats have, she said, “turned my life upside down.”

It takes a certain kind of gumption, gravitas and grit to take a risk, to stand alone and be unpopular for doing what is right, truthful and just. That is what these history-makers have in common. Their interest was not racial or partisan. Their interests were protecting democracy, telling the truth and representing the future interests of all Americans. 

They are African American, and they are Americans who believe in the greatness of this country. They represent the highest standards of integrity. Their actions, which are uneraseable and undeniable, are in meeting minutes, congressional records and police and hearing reports. Their story might not be captured in some school books or told in classrooms, but in the African American community, we are in awe of their sacrifice and fidelity to democracy. They were scared to death while believing in democracy. Scared to death while advocating for justice. Scared to death while protecting others. Scared to death while telling the truth. They did these things anyway. 

This is what courage, fortitude and service look like. We applaud and salute their bravery, resiliency, stalwartness and leadership.

The Rev. Theresa A. Dear is a national board member of the NAACP and a Deseret News contributor. 

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