Soiling of Old Glory: The Story of a Photograph That Shocked America

Overview

Sometimes a moment can change history. This one took 1/250th of a second.

Boston, April 5, 1976. As the city simmered with racial tension over forced school busing, newsman Stanley Forman hurried to City Hall to photograph that day’s protest, arriving just in time to snap the image that his editor would title “The Soiling of Old Glory.” T he photo made headlines across the United States and won Forman his second Pulitzer Prize. I t shocked Boston, and America: Racial strife had ...

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The Soiling of Old Glory: The Story of a Photograph That Shocked America

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Overview

Sometimes a moment can change history. This one took 1/250th of a second.

Boston, April 5, 1976. As the city simmered with racial tension over forced school busing, newsman Stanley Forman hurried to City Hall to photograph that day’s protest, arriving just in time to snap the image that his editor would title “The Soiling of Old Glory.” T he photo made headlines across the United States and won Forman his second Pulitzer Prize. I t shocked Boston, and America: Racial strife had not ended with the 1960s, it was alive and well in the cradle of liberty. Louis P. Masur’s evocative “biography of a photograph” unpacks this arresting image in a tour de force of historical writing.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Historian Masur (1831: Year of Eclipse) has written a gem of a book based on an iconic, Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph by Stanley Forman. Taken on April 5, 1976, at a Boston rally against forced school busing, it's a stark, frightening image of an angry white teenager brandishing an American flag at a well-dressed African-American man, apparently trying to impale him. Published on the front page of newspapers across the country, the photo crystallized the complex issues that enflamed Boston during the city's school busing crisis. Masur addresses the source of the picture's power on a multitude of levels, bringing uncommon wisdom and explanatory skills to his analysis of the collision of the Civil Rights movement, racism and community concerns about court-ordered busing programs. Masur is superb when deconstructing the photo, pointing out the elements of its composition that infused it with meaning, while at the same time asking provocative questions that illuminate how the interpretation of a photograph can affect our perception of an event. Equally compelling is Masur's discussion of the shifting and potent historical symbolism of the American flag, which stands at the metaphorical center of the photo. (Apr.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
School Library Journal

On April 5, 1976, an antibusing rally in Boston grew violent when African American lawyer Ted Landsmark was attacked by some of the protesters. News photographer Stanley Forman captured the ruckus on film; one photo gained international attention and is the subject of this revelatory study by Masur (history, CUNY; 1831: Year of Eclipse). A teenage boy aims an American flag at Landsmark, who appears to be restrained by another man while a mob in the background looks on. We learn that the photo is not quite what it appears to be: the teenager was swinging the flag, not charging with it, and the man holding Landsmark was actually helping him to his feet. But as a powerful image it effectively stalled Boston's antibusing movement. Masur writes descriptively about the photo while creating an ethnographic history of 1970s Boston, with diversions into the political and cultural uses of the American flag and the history of photojournalism in the United States. He also describes the aftermath of the photo's front-page publication. There was a retaliatory attack on a white man and a possibly related courthouse bombing but no widespread violence; Forman won his second Pulitzer Prize but also received death threats. Ultimately, there was forgiveness and reconciliation among the parties involved. A compelling story; highly recommended for all high school, public, and academic libraries.
—Thomas A. Karel Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information

From the Publisher
“An elegantly reasoned, wonderfully researched and deeply moving new book...Masur's skill at teasing the symbolic resonance from the photo's structure and composition is impressive, as is his treatment of the flag as national icon. He displays his real skill as a historian, however, in his remarkably clear and fair-minded synopses of tangled racial histories. Boston's certainly is one of those, and you won't find a better or more crystalline account of it than in The Soiling of Old Glory. His sketch of precisely how the Boston school crisis develops is a small model of detailed economy and essential context….Masur's elegantly clear-eyed analysis of this famous photo and the people and conditions that actually produced it proffers, if not a counter maximum, a parallel one: All politics are local until they become symbolic — and then they belong to us all.”—Tim Rutten, Los Angeles Times

“Masur examines the photograph's visual power and provides an informed deconstruction of the image in terms of composition, texture and light. With his precise skills as a cultural historian, Masur probes deeper, analyzing the photograph's role in the emotional collision of civil-rights activism with continued racism and the resulting changes in the community...a fascinating look at both the sacred and profane ways the flag has been portrayed in the name of artistic expression and the legislative attempts to limit them...Sharp and vivid.”—Ann E. Yow, Seattle Times

“An engaging book for anyone interested in journalism, photography, history or social themes, as—like a photograph—it reflects the actions and attitudes of America at a distinctive place and time.”—John T. Slania, BookPage

“This disparity between actual event and photographic appearance is what makes The Soiling of Old Glory read at times like a mystery story, as we wait to hear that over time the truth of the image has silted out into our cultural consciousness.”—Andy Grundberg, American Scholar

"It’s a story not just of a photograph but of a deeply troubled period in American history, and it is a compelling book. "Booklist (starred review)

"Masur is superb when deconstructing the photo, pointing out the elements of its composition that infused it with meaning, while at the same time asking provocative questions that illuminate how the interpretation of a photograph can affect our perception of an event. Equally compelling is Masur’s discussion of the shifting and potent historical symbolism of the American flag, which stands at the metaphorical center of the photo.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"A moving reminder of a painful episode in American history.”—Kirkus Reviews

"Most historians begin with a large argument or theory, then attempt to demonstrate its relevance within a specific context. Louis Masur reverses this interpretive process, beginning with a very specific incident - in this case a racially charged moment in Boston in 1976 - then spreading outward to trace its origins, resonances and implications for the larger story. In order to do this well you need to know how to tell a story and write uncommonly well, both qualities that Masur possesses in abundance. In my judgment, he is the best there is at what he does." Joseph Ellis, author of Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation and American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic

"In The Soiling of Old Glory, Louis Masur is at his best, dissecting a single photographic frame to reveal its essential gravitas, humanity and inhumanity, and explaining how we see, interpret — and misinterpret — imagery in the modern age." — David Friend, editor at Vanity Fair and author of Watching the World Change: The Stories Behind the Images of 9/11

“Louis Masur’s vivid and compelling book provides depth and breadth to this haunting, horrific, photograph. He carefully situates this image into significant contexts: Boston’s racial tensions, the symbolic power of the flag, and the photograph’s connection with other visual icons in our history. The Soiling of Old Glory helps readers appreciate not only the public life of this picture, but its impact on those forever associated with it.” - Edward T. Linenthal, author of The Unfinished Bombing: Oklahoma City in American Memory

“Louis Masur has written an indispensable history about an unforgettable image. With admirable empathy and grace, he reveals why racial conflict in modern America is both so compelling and so difficult to resolve.” -Michael Kazin, author of A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan

“Louis P. Masur's fine-grained study of the Boston school bussing violence and the Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph that memorialized it is grassroots visual culture at its finest. The anatomy of an icon!” - Karal Ann Marling, author Old Glory: Unfurling History and As Seen on TV: The Visual Culture of Everyday Life in the 1950s

"Louis P. Masur's deep contextual reading of a single photograph that defined a painful historic moment for our nation is a surprising page-turner." - Margaret Sartor, author of Miss American Pie

“Lou Masur continues to write some of the freshest and most original work in American history. Each of his books has expanded the discipline, and The Soiling of Old Glory has taken “history” all the way into the present. With artistry, verve and impeccable research, he has written another jewel of a book, and opened up an entire world through a single image.” – Ted Widmer, author of Ark of the Liberties: America and the World

The Barnes & Noble Review
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 [the] projects." --Barbara Spindel
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781596916005
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 12/23/2008
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 219,212
  • Product dimensions: 5.67 (w) x 8.26 (h) x 0.37 (d)

Meet the Author

Louis Masur

Louis P. Masur is the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of American I nstitutions and Values at T rinity College in Hartford. He is the editor of Reviews in American History, one of the most widely read journals in its field. His books include 1831: Year of Eclipse and Autumn Glory: Baseball’s First World Series.

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Read an Excerpt

THE SOILING OF OLD GLORY

THE STORY OF A PHOTOGRAPH THAT SHOCKED AMERICA


By LOUIS P. MASUR BLOOMSBURY PRESS

Copyright © 2008 Louis P. Masur
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-59691-364-6



Chapter One

THE INCIDENT

THE DAY BROKE mild and clear. Early April in Boston could bring slicing winds and numbing cold, but on Monday morning, April 5, spring had staked its claim. Students in South Boston and Charlestown, never ones to overdress even in the depths of winter, ventured out in light jackets and windbreakers, and some even in shirtsleeves. The previous Friday, fliers had appeared all over the high schools calling for a Monday boycott of classes to rally against busing at City Hall Plaza and the Federal Building. This had become a familiar drill for many of the teens. Ever since U.S. District Judge Arthur Garrity had ruled in June I974 that Boston had deliberately maintained segregated schools, and ordered a program of busing to promote desegregation, boycotts, protests, and violence had afflicted the schools and the city.

Some two hundred white students assembled for the march to City Hall Plaza. They attended for every reason, and for no reason at all: they despised forced busing, they hated blacks, they feared change, they followed their parents' lead, they welcomed days off from school, they wanted to hang out with their friends, they felt like they were part of a group. "We all wanted to belong tosomething big," recalls one teenage protester, "and the feeling of being part of the anti-busing movement along with the rest of Southie had been the best feeling in the world." Southie meant more than just the geographic place South Boston. It meant neighborhood and community and ethnic pride. Thinking of the long day ahead, some packed a snack. Some made signs that said RESIST. One student, Joseph Rakes, before leaving his third-floor South Boston apartment, grabbed the family's American flag.

From the start, the anti-busing movement identified itself with patriotism. The activists saw themselves as defending their liberty against the tyranny of a judge run amok. The celebration of Bicentennial events in 1975 and 1976 only reinforced the idea that they were carrying on in a tradition of American resistance; one anti-busing group had as its motto "Don't tread on me." At rallies and boycotts, protesters carried American flags and frequently sang "God Bless America." Protesters against the Vietnam War had often burned Old Glory, but not here, not among the mainly working-class Irish of Boston.

Some adults accompanied the students on the march. Part organizers, part chaperones, they kept the group moving and looked to help avoid any trouble. One of the leaders was James Kelly, a South Boston spokesman since the conflict began and president of the South Boston Information Center. Kelly had graduated in 1958 from South Boston High School, where he played football and learned a trade. He became a sheet metal worker, putting in long hours and raising a family in South Boston. Kelly was a working-class kid. "My father didn't make much money," he said. "We were renters all our lives. I understand what it's like to live week to week."

Kelly lost his way on the path to economic stability in 1967 when he was convicted of possessing a dangerous weapon. He spent four months at the Suffolk County House of Correction and emerged with a record. His drinking problem, which helped land him in jail in the first place, worsened: "My weekends began on Thursday and ended on Tuesday. I started to realize I wasn't a very nice guy to my family." With the help of his parole officer and Alcoholics Anonymous, Kelly got sober. He recalls having had his last drink on March 24, 1971. Then he started to turn his life around.

In I973, Kelly suffered an injury on his job-sheet metal sliced the tendons in his right hand-and he received workman's compensation. At that moment, the busing crisis took hold of him. He and City Council president Louise Day Hicks, whose actions on the Boston School Committee in the 1960s led to the lawsuit that resulted in the desegregation order, were neighbors and friends, so even though Kelly himself did not get involved in politics, he supported the efforts to defend his community against busing and charges of racism. With Garrity's decision, Kelly became active. Through the South Boston Information Center, organized in early September 1974 to offset negative and inaccurate press reports about opposition to busing, he helped direct resistance. Kelly organized the protest on April 5.

When the marchers arrived at City Hall, Louise Day Hicks invited them into the empty council chamber. Hicks embodied the South Boston community. Her father, a distinguished lawyer and banker, was also a special justice on the South Boston District Court. After he died, she devoted herself to education, the law, and politics. She earned a bachelor's degree at age thirty-six and a law degree three years later. Elected to the School Committee in 1961, she soon found herself at the center of a debate over de facto segregation in the schools. She lost a close election for mayor in 1967. She served on the City Council and one term as a congresswoman. Hicks was now the leader of the council. When Judge Garrity issued his order, she helped found ROAR-Restore Our Alienated Rights, an organization militantly opposed to busing. For months, she kept a ROAR poster in her office, high above City Hall Plaza.

Hicks had not known that the students were coming until she heard it announced on the radio. She looked out of her office window onto the plaza and saw them walking, carrying signs. A few went to her office. The students presented a list of their demands: they wanted an end to busing, they wanted accurate reporting of racial incidents, and they wanted the superintendent to resign. Hicks, who often wore hats and gloves and bright-colored dresses and projected a ladylike manner that seemed at odds with the anger that engulfed her, served hot chocolate to the marchers, and together in the council chamber everyone said the Pledge of Allegiance. The students stood proudly. One held an American flag in his left hand and placed his right hand over his heart. Hicks herself often wore a rhinestone-spangled flag pin and had once declared that "the flag is motherhood and apple pie."

As the students filed out of the chamber and headed outside, they passed a group of black students from a nearby magnet school going on a tour. Some epithets were exchanged, and pieces of food-donuts, cookies, apples-flew back and forth. Groups have moods, and the protesters, fueled with cocoa and patriotism, marched onto the plaza feeling righteous about their cause. At that moment, a black man turned the corner and headed in their direction.

Ted Landsmark was late to a meeting. A lawyer for the Contractors Association, he was headed to City Hall for discussions on minority hiring in construction jobs. Dressed well on this mild April morning in a favorite three-piece suit, he was enjoying the brisk walk.

This was only Landsmark's third year in Boston. Born Theodore Augustus Burrell in Kansas City in 1946, he grew up in public housing in East Harlem after his family came east to be with relatives. His father worked as a subway conductor; his mother was a nurse. His parents separated when he was three, and Landsmark was raised by his doting mother as well as his grandparents and two aunts. When he moved to Boston, he took his mother's maiden name, to "honor the woman who did all the work."

Landsmark's dawning political consciousness came from his grandfather, who was a follower of Marcus Garvey, the black nationalist leader and founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association. The young Landsmark watched his grandfather come home from the coal yards and wash up with grit to get the grime off of his hands. Then he would settle down with a Ballantine Ale and a copy of the New York Times and preach to whoever was listening about the events of the day.

Childhood polio left Landsmark with a slight limp and unable to participate as fully in sports as he would have liked. At New York's elite Stuyvesant High School he found an outlet for his athletic interests and at the same time learned some important lessons about organizing.

Landsmark joined the cheerleading squad, in part to meet girls. He also learned that, as captain of the cheerleaders, he could lead in any direction he pleased. He started mobilizing students for events away from Stuyvesant. He invited them to the March on Washington in 1963, which he attended with his grandparents and aunts. He led his classmates to Union Square to see President Kennedy's motorcade. And he organized a rally to protest a speech by George Lincoln Rockwell of the American Nazi Party. He had little difficulty getting the many Jewish students at Stuyvesant to skip school for that one.

After a year at St. Paul's in New Hampshire, where he was in the first cohort of blacks ever to attend the prep school, Landsmark went to Yale in 1964. He was one of sixteen black students in the freshman class, and it did not take long for him to become central to the civil rights movement both on campus and off. He served as political editor for the Yale Daily News, got interested in photojournalism, and had his first experiences in the Deep South when he answered an ad placed by some divinity students looking for help driving down to support the freedom marches. When his companions saw that he was black they swallowed hard, and then they drove with him to Tennessee.

In the South, Landsmark and his traveling companions experienced racial hatred as they never had before. At one point, Klan members chased them and they hid behind a bush. In late March 1965, Landsmark was among the thousands who marched from Selma to Montgomery. He would return south in 1968. When news of Martin Luther King's assassination hit, Landsmark instinctively got into a car and drove nonstop to attend King's funeral.

At Yale, Landsmark's thinking about social responsibility and moral accountability developed under the guidance of William Sloane Coffin, the university chaplain. A leading liberal clergyman, Coffin opposed the Vietnam War, supported civil rights, and urged peaceful acts of civil disobedience. Coffin had weekly conversations at his house about how to be an ethical and responsible individual. The group would discuss works on justice and violence and consider how best to transform an unjust society. Calvin Hill, the star football player on Yale's team who went on to a career in the NFL, was so taken by the conversations that he asked whether he should stop playing football because of the sport's violent nature. "No, no," Landsmark and the others implored.

As an undergraduate, Landsmark contemplated a career in architecture or city planning or law. As a child in the projects, he grasped intuitively the reciprocal relationship between environment and identity, but he had deep reservations about the architectural profession, which had so few black members. He did not want to spend his career in loneliness and isolation. Landsmark instead enrolled at Yale Law School and simultaneously took architecture courses. An incident with a successful Boston architect confirmed his decision. Landsmark was friends with the architect's daughter, who was getting married and invited him to the wedding. The reception was being held at a whites-only country club. The Boston architect was unhappy with the invitation of Landsmark, who attended only after the bride threatened to cancel the reception. Landsmark was left wondering whether architects had the courage to challenge discrimination.

In 1973, after graduating from law school, Landsmark moved to Boston and took a position at Hill & Barlow, one of the city's most prestigious firms. Michael Dukakis was his boss, and William Weld had the office across from him. Both men would one day serve as governors of the commonwealth. Ironically, the firm represented many architects, including the country club member whom Landsmark had discomfited. Landsmark quickly discovered that the mundane aspects of a law practice were not for him. Civil rights cases were one thing. But defending corporate clients such as Amtrak in railroad-crossing cases paid the bills, and after a dozen or so cases in which he negotiated a settlement with the family of some poor soul who thought he could race a train and win, Landsmark thought about moving on.

The decision to do so came easily after his first real vacation following his move to Boston in 1974. He had decided to go to the island of St. Kitts, the ancestral home of his maternal grandmother. What he found astonished him. People of African descent ran the country and were doing a terrific job. The experience was nothing less than an epiphany. The unspoken message that he had heard his whole life, that people of color could not govern without anarchy erupting, was simply not true. He realized at that moment that for all his education, and all the elite black leaders in America with whom he had had contact, he had been a victim of the pernicious effects of a racism that "inculcates and perpetuates a stereotype within the minds and culture of the people who are being discriminated against so that we come to believe that we are inferior." He returned to Boston determined to direct his life in ways that would help minorities to succeed, to manage their lives and communities from a position of confidence and strength.

Landsmark enjoyed his new position with the Contractors Association. His legal training came into play, as did his interest in civil rights and his continuing passion for architecture and environmental design. It was his work for the association that had him rushing to a meeting at City Hall on the morning of April 5, 1976.

The marchers spotted Landsmark coming toward them. So did a photographer who only minutes before had arrived on the scene.

Stanley Forman loved his job. He had shown up early for work that day, as he did every day. No news was being made in his bachelor apartment in Brighton. So Forman drove to the Herald American offices with his constant companion, Glossy, a golden retriever. He arrived sometime after eight for a nine-to-five shift and asked Al Salie, the assistant city editor, if anything was going on. Salie told him that Gene Dixon, another of the news photographers, was off at an anti-busing rally at City Hall. There was nothing else to do, so Forman asked if he could go join him.

He drove his silver Mercury to City Hall Plaza, about ten minutes away. He parked on the island on Cambridge Street, cracked the window for Glossy, and walked toward the plaza. It was pleasant enough for April 5; Forman took his time.

Thirty years old, Forman was a local talent who had already established himself as one of the most gifted spot news photographers in the business. He came from a working-class Jewish family in Revere, Massachusetts. His father was a musician who did not have a steady income; he played the accordion and sang at weddings and bar mitzvahs. Forman describes his mother as quiet and reserved.

He has rich memories of his childhood growing up in a two-family house in a Jewish ghetto that was known informally as the kosher canyon. He spent a fair amount of time lurking in poolrooms and drinking beer and chasing girls. One day, playing sandlot football, he dislocated his shoulder. The injury would keep him out of Vietnam.

Forman graduated from high school in 1963 but never considered college; few of his peers did. His father had bought him a camera, and Forman enjoyed fooling around with it, but he knew nothing about photography. Sometimes he would chase police and fire calls, and he even sold an occasional photo to a paper, but he had no direction.

Maybe his father knew before he did. From the time he was twelve, Forman would look over his father's shoulder at the pictures in the Boston American. One credit line in particular stood out for him: Rollie Oxton. Those photographs captured the boy's imagination. Urban life was an adventure, and photographers such as Oxton, who won the annual award from the Boston Press Photographers Association for best spot news photography five times, were explorers who captured on film accidents and fires and rescues.

With his father's urging, he looked up photography schools and saw an ad for the Franklin Institute of Photography. Forman enrolled in 1965. His instructor was a neighbor and local photographer who did portraits and weddings. He spent a year learning his craft: f-stops, shutter speeds, depth of field, and the mysteries of the darkroom.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from THE SOILING OF OLD GLORY by LOUIS P. MASUR Copyright © 2008 by Louis P. Masur. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Preface     ix
The Incident     1
Boston and Busing     20
The Photograph     54
Old Glory     91
The Impact     121
Reverberations     156
Afterword     201
Acknowledgments     206
Bibliographic Essay     210
Index     217

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