Monday, June 9, 2008

The Soiling of Old Glory

I was filling in for a day as photo editor of The Legal Times in DC last week when I was asked to look for images of some African-American lawyers who attended Yale in the early 1970s. This was for a story on statements Clarence Thomas makes in his recent autobiography. I tried the names of the lawyers in various photo databases. Suddenly this photo came up, and I gasped:
The photo shocked millions when it was first published in 1976, the nation's Bicentennial year. At an anti-busing rally in Boston that April, some of the protesters grabbed an African-American lawyer who had the misfortune to be walking by and attacked him, using the American flag as a weapon of racism and hatred. (The lawyer is Ted Landsmark, who was on the list of attorneys I was searching for. He suffered a broken nose and other injuries; today he is president of Boston Architectural College). The photo this year became the subject of its own book: "The Soiling of Old Glory: The Story of a Photograph That Shocked America."
The editors at the Legal Times agreed to use the photo, and I needed to call the photographer, Stan Forman. He's had a remarkable career. At the time he took this photo Stan had won the Pulitzer the previous year, for images of a woman and child falling from a broken fire escape. Then this photo shared the Pulitzer for spot news in 1977. Forman shared his third Pulitzer two years later when the Boston Herald-American's photo staff won for feature photography for its blizzard coverage. That means Stan collected three Pulitzers in four years, a record not since equalled in photography.
In 1983 Forman quit stills and became a cameraman for local station WCVB-TV in Boston, where he's continued to rake in awards. When I reached him to ask about using his photo in the Legal Times he was working out on the streets for WCVB. I asked him what he'd been doing that day. "I was just up at a fire, a Chinese restaurant in Methuen," he said. "It makes good video. That makes my day."



Blogger Ray O'Hara said...

There was a story in the Boston papers years after that photo was taken about the very different lives of the Lawyer and the man wielding the flag.

The lawyer has done very well while the other man ended up a homeless for a while and suffering from alcoholism

I renmember the very vivis picture of the two people in the fire escape collapse. A young boy and a young woman. the woman died. from the vantage point of the picture it was obvious that if the photographer had time to aim and shoot he had time to take one step forward and break the fall of the woman. Having a camera does not exempt one from helping a fellow human in distress. He got a pulitzer, she got a headstone.

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