The Soiling of Old Glory

By LOUIS P. MASUR

Stanley Forman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a black man being attacked by a white teen wielding an American flag hits like a punch to the gut. Louis Masur’s fascinating book examines the picture – taken at a Boston anti-busing rally in 1976 — from multiple angles. After a court order mandated busing to desegregate Boston’s public schools, the city simmered with tension. Masur covers the events that culminated in the unprovoked assault on attorney Ted Landsmark and the photograph’s effect on the anti-busing movement, which had identified itself with patriotic resistance to tyranny, denying any roots in racism. Masur’s close reading of the image references everything from representations of the Crucifixion to the artwork of Jasper Johns to the iconic image of the flag raising on Iwo Jima. He reveals the photograph’s telling distortions — the assailant was swinging the flag, not aiming it at Landsmark, and the man who appears to be restraining Landsmark was in fact helping him to his feet — while contending that the nationally-circulated image ultimately brought about “progress and healing.” Landsmark himself captures that spirit of forgiveness — attacked amid cries of “Get the nigger” — he subsequently devoted years to public service in Boston. “I always identified with the young men who attacked me,” he says of the working-class Irish Catholics who dominated the anti-busing movement. “I’ve never forgotten that I grew up in projects.” -