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

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

by Louis P. Masur


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Boston, April 5, 1976. As the city simmered with racial tension over forced school busing, newsman Stanley Forman photographed a white protester outside City Hall assaulting an African American attorney with the American flag. The photo shocked Boston, made front pages across the U.S. and won a Pulitzer Prize. Acclaimed historian Louis P. Masur has done extensive research, including personal interviews with those involved, to reveal the unknown story of what really happened that day and afterward. This evocative "biography of a photograph" unpacks this arresting image to trace the lives of the men who intersected at that moment, to examine the power of photography and the meaning of the flag, and to reveal how a single picture helped change race relations in Boston and America. The Soiling of Old Glory, like the photograph itself, offers a dramatic window onto the turbulence of the 1970s and race relations in America.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781596916005
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 12/23/2008
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 618,603
Product dimensions: 5.55(w) x 8.32(h) x 0.66(d)

About the Author

Louis P. Masur is William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of American Institutions and Values at Trinity College in Hartford. He is the editor of Reviews in American History, the premier book review journal in its field. His books include 1831: Year of Eclipse and Autumn Glory: Baseball's First World Series.

Read an Excerpt




Copyright © 2008 Louis P. Masur
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-59691-364-6

Chapter One


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.


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.
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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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Soiling of Old Glory: The Story of a Photograph That Shocked America 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
WorldReader1111 More than 1 year ago
I liked this book It is, first, reasonably well-written. I did encounter several parts that read a bit awkwardly, as to lend an air of disorganization to certain chapters; however, this was merely a nuisance, failing to detract from the book as a whole. Content-wise, I found 'Soiling' to be rich and pleasing, as well as multidimensional. Besides offering a sound, comprehensive account of Stanley Forman's famous/infamous 1976 photograph, the book includes much historical and biographical background, too, along with sociological commentaries; in effect, the text serves as a profound psychological and human study, rather than just the story of a politically- and racially charged assault. What's more, the author goes on to make some very perceptive and relevant observations on photography and its often illusive nature, and the many profound effects that it has on the mind and the world at large (which, in today's image-centric society, we'd do well to consider, I believe). I also appreciated reading of the after-effects of the Boston incident, and how, for many of those involved, it worked as a catalyst for personal growth and development (as to be a gift in strange wrapping, as it were). However, the book's most interesting point is, for me, that which lies hidden between its lines. Namely: we are shown the incredible complexity that precedes even the simplest of photographed events, from the reasoning of the participants, to the tangle of perspectives and perceptions regarding the very nature of the depicted actions. In this sense, the book's takeaway lesson is that nothing is simple (and is probably not as it appears), and, thus, we should not be quick to judge, given the massive number of deciding factors and other contextual elements which bear on the actuality of any situation (and the choices and behavior which gave way to it). With this in mind, 'Soiling of Old Glory' is as much a cautionary tale, regarding the judgment of racism and violence as much as those things themselves. All in all: much food for thought here. I learned plenty from this book, while being periodically entertained (or heartbroken). My sincere thanks goes out to this book's author, subjects, and publisher. I am grateful for, and have benefited from, your work and service.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The two guy friend walkedin looking around
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The stairs were clear/ and dark so she settled down with a Blue Moon.