It was a powerful image: the mother of slain Charlottesville protester Heather Heyer standing arm-in-arm with a direct relative of Robert E. Lee.
“Only 15 days ago, my daughter Heather was killed as she protested racism. I miss her, but I know she is here tonight,” Susan Bro said from the stage to loud cheers.
“I have been deeply moved to see people across the world—the whole world—find inspiration in her courage.” She urged viewers to visit the website for the newly formed Heather Heyer Foundation to help “make Heather’s death count.”
“I want people to know that Heather never marched alone,” Bro continued. “She was always joined by people from every race and every background in this country.” With that in mind, she said MTV agreed to give the “Fight Against the System” award to all six nominees, including John Legend for “Surefire,” Taboo featuring Shailene Woodley for the #NoDAPL protest song “Stand Up / Stand N Rock,” and The Hamilton Mixtape’s “Immigrants (We Get the Job Done).”
MTV introduced the category at this spring’s MTV Movie Awards, replacing that show’s traditional “Best Fight” award for something a bit more progressive and forward-looking. Congresswoman Maxine Waters presented that prize to the film Hidden Figures.
Bro was introduced by Rev. Robert Wright Lee IV, a descendant of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, whose statue was a catalyst for violence by racist demonstrators in Charlottesville.
“We have made my ancestor an idol of white supremacy, racism, and hate. As a pastor, it is my moral duty to speak out against racism, America’s original sin,” Lee said to applause from the audience. “Today, I call on all of us, with privilege and power to answer God’s call to confront racism and white supremacy head-on. We can find inspiration in the Black Lives Matter movement, the women who marched in the Women’s March in January, and, especially, Heather Heyer, who died fighting for her beliefs in Charlottesville.”
Unlike host Katy Perry, who pulled a Paul Ryan and declined to name Donald Trump in her tepid political commentary, Bro seized her moment at Heyer’s public memorial service to deliver a message directly to the president—as well as those who would commit racially motivated violence in his name.
“They tried to kill my child to shut her up. Well guess what, you just magnified her,” she declared. Trump reportedly tried calling Bro during the service, but she has refused to speak with him after he drew a moral equivalence between white supremacists and those like Heyer who were demonstrating against them. “You can’t wash this one away by shaking my hand and saying ‘I’m sorry,’” Bro said.
In the end, Bro and Lee exited the stage together, united as a powerful symbol against hate. And one that the president of the United States himself could not muster.