Forty years ago Tuesday, Boston Herald American photographer Stanley Forman photographed a racially-motivated assault that crystallized one of the most tense times in Boston’s history.
While covering a demonstration by white protesters who opposed court-ordered busing to desegregate Boston’s public schools, Forman photographed a white teenager attack a young black lawyer with an American flag. The lawyer, Ted Landsmark, had been walking on City Hall Plaza when he was assaulted. The protester wielding the flag was 17-year-old Joseph Rakes, who lived in South Boston.
The photograph became known as “The Soiling of Old Glory” and won the 1977 Pulitzer Prize for spot news photography.
The act of violence has haunted Boston for years.
The late Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino once said: “No one should have to look at Stanley Forman’s photos but everyone needs to.”
Forman presented Menino with an autographed print of the image for his office at Boston University. Menino told him he hated the picture.
Since 1983, Forman has been a journalist and videographer with Ch.5 (WCVB-TV) in Boston. We recently discussed his historic photograph.
Picture Boston: Let’s start with the obvious, and probably my toughest question. How have Boston’s race relations changed since “Soiling”?
Forman: Forty years later I believe race relations have certainly gotten better. But looking back, not being a black man I did not realize the anger or hatred there was. I was single, no children and I wasn’t busing my children from my neighborhood to another. I grew up in Revere in a white neighborhood (with) only a handful of blacks in the schools. I guess I was naive about racism.
Picture Boston: Do you remember the first time you met Ted Landsmark, after the event?
Forman: I’m not sure about the first time I met Ted but I do remember the time my family and I were crossing the street by the Government Center Garage and there was Ted coming the opposite way in the crosswalk. It was very exciting for me to have my family meet him.
Picture Boston: When were you hired at Boston Herald American and how many years were you on staff prior to the photo?
Forman : I began at the Record American November 22, 1966. I had just finished my first photography job being the campaign photographer for Attorney General Edward Brooke’s successful campaign to become a US Senator.
Picture Boston: Was it an assignment or did you hear it on police scanner?
Forman: I had arrived at the office just before 9 a.m. I asked city editor Al Salie what was going on. He told me Gene Dixon was at a demo at City Hall. I asked if I could go and join him. After doing a quick errand I arrived at City Hall as the anti-busing rally was coming down the stairs after visiting city Councilor Louise Day Hicks. Hicks a well known anti-busing proponent invited them in to the chambers for a salute to the flag and had milk and cookies for the group. When they came out of the (building) there was a group of black students going into the Hall and there was a confrontation in front of me. I then switched from my 35 (millimeter) lens to my 20 (millimeter) lens.
Picture Boston : Were you scared for Mr. Landsmark’s safety?
Forman: Yes, I looked over my shoulder I saw a black man turning into the Plaza. I just knew he was going to be attacked.
Picture Boston : Were you scared for your safety?
Forman: I ran down as the assault unfolded. It was over in seconds. BPD only had a couple of cops directly with the group. There (were) dozens waiting on the side lines. I did not have time to think of my safety — just went with the flow. I did worry about my safety after the photo was published. I was threatened many times.
Picture Boston: Did you know the magnitude of the photograph when you snapped photo?
Forman: I took the image and followed the group to Post Office Square not realizing the impact the image had. Herald American reporter Joe Driscoll caught up with me in the Square telling me about (what happened) via the AP wire and he was dispatched from the office. I said, “I have the photo of it!” Of course I had no idea what I had gotten. I knew I had motor drive trouble and there was no instant looking at the back of your camera 40 years ago.
Picture Boston: Have you ever met Joseph Rakes?
I have never met Joe Rakes but I became friendly with his brother Stevie due to the ongoing Whitey Bulger saga. I gave Stevie an autographed copy of the photo.
For more on Ted Landsmark, check out this 3-part story by the Boston Herald’s Jack Encarnacao.