What it Takes to Be an Upstander

Posted by Kaitlin Smith on June 12, 2020

The word "FEAR" being erased on a chalkboardMarti Tippens Murphy, Executive Director of Facing History and Ourselves Memphis, recently reflected upon the nature of upstanding and what it demands of us in these times in The Daily Memphian.

Below is an excerpt from her piece:

The term 'upstander’ — someone who speaks out and stands up for justice on behalf of others  is more widely known now than ever. In this moment, we need to reflect on what being an upstander really takes. 

It calls for so many things  compassion, ethics, reflection, understanding beyond oneself  and it calls for courage. Anytime we courageously use our voice or take an action, it requires some kind of risk, and there is no such thing as courage without fear. At a minimum, it will make us uncomfortable.

Facing History and Ourselves uses lessons of history to challenge teachers and their students to stand up to bigotry and hate. As part of this process, in classrooms across the globe, Facing History teachers introduce vocabulary to students to help them think about human behavior in times of crisis: bystander, ally, resister, target, victim, rescuer  and upstander.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it takes to be an upstander today in the wake of the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, and the national response.

In 2016, when the Memphis office of Facing History commissioned the “Upstanders in Memphis History” mural across from the National Civil Rights Museum, we wanted to engage viewers in the variety of ways people have stood up for others. These stories include Ida B. Wells working to end lynching, Lucy Tibbs testifying as a witness and violent crime victim in the aftermath of the Memphis Massacre, and Sheldon Korones establishing one of the first neonatal intensive care units to provide equitable health care for premature black babies. 

We have so much to learn from our history when we are bold enough to face it. We have a great deal to learn from people of color who have led the fight (along with allies) against racism since its beginning. We have an opportunity now to read with different eyes, listen with different ears, and to act differently  to act ethically with courage and compassion.

Read the rest of Marti's piece in The Daily Memphian.


Facing History and Ourselves invites you to use our reading "Who We Are, or Could Be, in Times of Crisis" in your physical or virtual classroom.

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Topics: Upstander

At Facing History and Ourselves, we value conversation—in classrooms, in our professional development for educators, and online. When you comment on Facing Today, you're engaging with our worldwide community of learners, so please take care that your contributions are constructive, civil, and advance the conversation.


Welcome to Facing Today, a Facing History blog. Facing History and Ourselves combats racism and antisemitism by using history to teach tolerance in classrooms around the globe.

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