Iconic Photos

Famous, Infamous and Iconic Photos

The Soiling of the Old Glory

with 8 comments

It was a photograph that shocked a city; it bumped the death of Howard Hughes off the frontpages all over the state. Entire books were written about it. Iconic Photos looks back at its contact sheets. 

Stanley Forman was early for his shift at the Herald American on April 5th, 1976 and he decided to head out to an anti-busing demonstration at Boston City Hall that another journalist was already covering. It was already two years into a desegregated school-busing in Massachusetts, but the protests in favor of the old system were still raging.

Forman managed to capture an episode that was especially violent: a black attorney named Theodore Landsmark — a Yale graduate who worked for Michael Dukakis no less — was attacked by a group of white teenagers as he exited the city hall. One of the attackers, Joseph Rakes, charged towards Landsmark using the American flag and its flagpole as a lance.

His camera motor jammed twice before he captured the iconic photo in his last frame — it was a poignant image; two millennia of history flashed past his lens, from Longinus spearing Christ at Golgotha to flag-rising at Iwo Jima. The next day, it appeared on the frontpages of the Washington PostChicago Tribune, and San Francisco Chronicle, among many others, and inside The New York Times.

A particularly violent retaliation took place the next day in Roxbury where a white driver was beaten and left in a coma; and Boston was finally forced to comfort the realities. The busing crises continued on for another decade. Forman won a Pulitzer Prize for his photo, which he submitted under his editor’s suggested title, “The Soiling of Old Glory.” As for Rakes, he was quickly fired from his job and his life fell apart. He admitted that when he first saw the picture, he thought, “Who is that lunatic with the flag? Then I realized it was me.”

This column is merely a short reflection on an extremely agonizing event during a complicated era for the United States. For more information, go to here, here, here, or buy Louis Masur’s authoritative book on the subject.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

October 17, 2012 at 6:46 pm

8 Responses

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  1. thanks so much for this one. i love your choices!


    October 17, 2012 at 7:06 pm

  2. Terrific story behind the photo. I love contact sheets.

    By the way, you wrote “Boston was finally forced to comfort the realities” but I think you meant “confront.” Damn autocorrect!


    October 18, 2012 at 12:20 pm

  3. Best take on this event I’ve read:

    “Interesting side note: the man who was being attacked was named Ted Landsmark. He spent part of his youth in Harlem. He later went on to Yale, to get a BA in Political Science, then got a PhD at Boston U. He is presently the president and CEO of the Boston Architectural Center, and has received fellowships from the National Science Foundation. (The Bush administration requested a three percent increase in their funding in the last budget.) The man in the photo wielding the flag was Joseph Rakes, who when last heard from was a laborer on the Big Dig in Boston. Ted Landsmark is writing opinion pieces for the Globe about the nature of the art and landscaping that will go on top of the tunnel.

    “What a horrible country, eh? But that’s not Michael Moore’s America. Michael Moore’s America is the dirtball shoving the flag at a black man, because that says it all.”


    Interestingly, Landsmark is now against bussing (just like the white guy was at the time)


    Kathy Shaidle (@kshaidle)

    October 18, 2012 at 12:55 pm

  4. You probably meant ‘confront’, not ‘comfort’. Love your work, thanks for it all.


    Sent from my iPhone

    Daniel Vergara

    October 19, 2012 at 10:25 pm

  5. When you look at the contact sheet, it sounds like the picture could be more powerfull in totality, not croped. On the right, the walls of a building are drowing a cross, giving the picture a more dramatic and religious tense. Iconic for sure!!


    October 20, 2012 at 11:53 am

  6. Ted Landsmark collected photographs before the incident. I think he owned a “Moonrise” or another iconic Adams print before the value skyrocketed. One of the ironies of the incident was that they could not have picked a more sophisticated, articulate person, someone ready to speak to the press any minute, night or day the attack with a flack: someone who was more pleased by the incident in terms of pr value than shocked by it.
    Sheppard Ferguson

    Sheppard Ferguson

    April 28, 2013 at 11:16 pm

  7. […] (via The Soiling of the Old Glory | Iconic Photos) […]

    My Blog

    July 31, 2013 at 10:26 pm

  8. […] Rakes was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon and sentenced to two years imprisonment and two years probation, but his sentence was later suspended. He said of the photo, “I saw the image and thought, ‘Who is that lunatic with the flag?’ Then I realized—it was me.” (Source) […]

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