The Soiling of Old Glory by Stanley Forman

29.03.2015 |

Episode #2 of the course “Pulitzer prize-winning photos”

In 1976, Boston courts ordered that students be bused to schools (often far from their homes) in an attempt to promote desegregation of the school system. Violent riots broke out around the city. In one, a prominent black attorney, Ted Landsmark, was attacked and beaten. His nose was broken and he was knocked to the ground. During the altercation, a white student named Joseph Rakes was using an American flag on a broken pole as a weapon, swinging it at people. Landsmark was being helped to his feet by another white man—an anti-busing activist named Jim Kelly—when Rakes swung the flag again.

Stanley Forman, a photographer with the Boston Herald American was on the scene of the riot snapping pictures when he saw the altercation involving Landsmark taking place. He took 25 pictures, one of which became known as “The Soiling of Old Glory.” It won the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for spot photography. Landsmark escaped the situation with only minor injuries after Kelly positioned himself between Landsmark and other protesters. Rakes was sentenced to jail time and probation, and he carried the legacy of being known as “the flag kid” for many years afterward.

Forman has insisted that the image in the photo does not represent all the context of the situation, and that it is very important to consider the symbolism of the image. While Rakes was not actually trying to impale Landsmark, as the image has been interpreted, the fact that a white man used an American flag as a weapon against a black man in a city that prides itself for its historical legacy of promoting freedom and equality (on the year of the country’s 200th independence anniversary) showed that the Civil Rights Act of the 1960s had not fully achieved its goals.


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