Iconic Photo Of Violent Busing Protests Parallels Today's Conflict Of Protest Vs. Patriotism A Pulitzer Prize-winning photo taken during the busing desegregation protests captured a nation. The photographer and subject of "The Soiling of Old Glory" talk about its significance 40 years on.
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Life After Iconic 1976 Photo: The American Flag's Role In Racial Protest

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Life After Iconic 1976 Photo: The American Flag's Role In Racial Protest

Life After Iconic 1976 Photo: The American Flag's Role In Racial Protest

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I'm Rachel Martin, and this is For the Record. Let's go back to 1945 - August 14, New York, Times Square. World War II was over, and Americans took to the streets to celebrate. A photograph captured a kiss. The woman in the picture was widely considered to be Greta Zimmer Friedman. She died this month at the age of 92. The photo became one of the most iconic images in American history, in part because it symbolized the joy and optimism of a nation emerging from war.

For the Record today - the back story behind another famous photo that was taken 40 years ago this year. Instead of unity, this photo captures rage, division and the racial tension that is still so present now in our country. The photo is titled "The Soiling Of Old Glory," and it won a Pulitzer Prize. It was taken on April 5, 1976.

STANLEY FORMAN: It just - for the time, it has everything you'd want in a picture.

MARTIN: Stanley Forman took the photo for what was then the Boston Herald American. If you've seen the picture, it's hard to forget. A young white man lunges at a black man with a sharp point of a flagpole. The American flag is attached. Forman remembers the day clearly.

FORMAN: It was a Monday, and I reported to the office. And I spoke to the city editor, who was Al Saley, asked what was doing. He told me there was a busing - it was - everyday was a busing demonstration. I asked if I could go. He said sure, so I went down there.

MARTIN: There were a lot of these protests happening in Boston at the time. The city had been busing kids outside of their neighborhoods in an effort to desegregate the schools. Stanley Formen grabbed his cameras and went down to city hall. He came upon a group of white student protesters walking through the main plaza.

FORMAN: I looked over my shoulder as most of the group kept going, and I saw a black man taking the turn. He was calling up State Street. In the background is the original state house. And I just - it just clicked in my mind. They're going to get him.

TED LANDSMARK: My name is Ted Landsmark. I am 70 years old.

MARTIN: In 1976, Landsmark was a 29-year-old Yale-educated lawyer, a transplant from New York who was working in Boston as an attorney. He had a background in civil rights and, at the time, was trying to get more minority contractors into construction. But he hadn't been paying much attention to the busing protests, and he had no idea he was about to run directly into one.

LANDSMARK: I had difficulty finding a parking space in downtown Boston. And I was running a few minutes late for the meeting in city hall, so I was in a hurry and perhaps not paying as much attention as I might have as I approached a corner where the young demonstrators were coming in the other direction. I did not see them until both they and I were at that corner.

MARTIN: Before he knew it, a group of students surrounded him.

LANDSMARK: The first person to attack me hit me from behind, which knocked off my glasses and ended up breaking my nose. The flag being swung at me came at me just moments after that and missed my face by inches.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LANDSMARK: The entire incident took about seven seconds.

MARTIN: All the while, Stanley Forman was watching through his camera lens. He captured the attack and left the plaza to follow the protesters. Ted Landsmark went to the hospital...

LANDSMARK: ...Where as luck would have it, there was an African-American doctor who was on duty. And when he bandaged me, he pointed out that there were a number of reporters waiting to talk to me outside of the emergency room and that we had a choice as to how to deal with my broken nose. We could either put a small bandage on it, or he could basically wrap my face in a way that would indicate that I'd been a victim of major violence. And he asked what my preference was, and I told him that I would rather have the major wrap if I was going to be facing the media.

MARTIN: Landsmark knew what had happened to him was not just a personal attack. It was a new flashpoint in the ongoing civil rights struggle. Right after he left the scene, Stanley Forman called his editors, who had told him the story was already getting out.

FORMAN: It's on the wires. Da-da, da-da (ph). A guy got attacked. I said, I got the pictures. He said - what? Get in. Get in. Get in the office right away. So I went back to City Hall Plaza, got my car. And I went to the office, developed the film, and it was scary. They were very frightened by it. It was really...

MARTIN: Who was frightened? Your editors?

FORMAN: The editors - the editors were saying - oh, wow. It was an oh-wow moment. What do you do with this? How big do you play it? And they sort of got lucky because Howard Hughes died. And the top of page one was Howard Hughes, and I was the bottom of the fold.

MARTIN: They were hesitant to put it on the top of the fold, on the front page.

FORMAN: Well, yes, but they had an out. They had Howard Hughes. Top of the page was Howard Hughes. The bottom of the fold with a little bit above the crease was the flag image.

MARTIN: The next day, the photograph appeared in newspapers across the country. And Ted Landsmark's phone began to ring.

LANDSMARK: And people began to call me and to send me copies. I had had no idea that it would get the kind of dramatic distribution that it did. And I received hundreds of letters and communications from around the world expressing support for me, asking what I had done to provoke the crowd, which, of course, was nothing.

MARTIN: What he did do was to use the attack as an opportunity to draw attention to racial injustice. Ted Landsmark realized he had a choice.

LANDSMARK: I could either focus on my anger at being attacked, or we could try to mobilize other people who had not been involved with any of the busing and the violence in a way that would bring more people of conscience into the conversation around the subject of what was going on in Boston at that time.

MARTIN: He would spend the next weeks and months speaking out in local churches and schools, talking with community groups and elected officials. Landsmark told me he never saw his attacker again. Joseph Rakes was his name - the white student who came at him that day with the flag. We reached out to him for comment, but we didn't hear back. Ted Landsmark told me he never met Joseph Rakes again after that day.

There is an account in Smithsonian Magazine of Joseph Rakes and his motivations. And he said that essentially, you know, he was a kid and the busing proposal meant that he was going to lose - half his friends were going to be forced to go to a different school and that - and that made him upset. And that's where he was emotionally on that day in those protests. Did you spend much time thinking about him and his motivations on that day?

LANDSMARK: I did not spend much time thinking about him and his motivations. But in all of the comments that I made, I did focus on the motivations of the adults who had encouraged these young people to be out of school and to participate in the kinds of demonstrations that led to high levels of racial violence. And I felt that that was grossly inappropriate.

MARTIN: May I ask you - the American flag and the idea of patriotism is a big part of this particular photo. And the flag is again in the public discourse connected to racial inequality in this country, in large part because of Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback for the 49ers who's conducting an ongoing protest. Do you have thoughts about this? I mean, in the current context of race relations in this country, what does the flag mean to you?

LANDSMARK: I view myself as an American who has benefited tremendously from the best that America can provide. And I also recognize that in the name of the flag, some very heinous things have been done to people in this country and elsewhere. I think that it is a symbol of what we aspire to be as a democracy and that when there's a demonstration that involves the flag, that speaks to how we express our values of democracy and fairness, that it is really an appropriate icon for all of us to look to as to what we want to be, as opposed to what we sometimes have been.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: The demonstrations that are going on at this moment speak, I think, to what it is we aspire to be as a democracy that provides fairness and equal opportunity and equality to all of the people who believe in the best values of the flag.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Attorney Ted Landsmark and photographer Stanley Forman.

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