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The lasting impact of one iconic photo

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A white teenager, Joseph Rakes, assaults lawyer and civil rights activist Ted Landsmark with a flagpole bearing the American flag in this Pulitzer Prize-winning photo taken by Stanley Forman during the Boston busing crisis in 1976. PHOTO: STANLEY FORMAN

Bay State Banner, March 2024

The incident occurred in a snatch of time. On April 5, 1976, Theodore “Ted” Landsmark, a Black, New York-born lawyer living in Boston, was rushing to a meeting with a development agency to discuss how to create opportunities for minority construction workers. When the 29-year-old reached City Hall Plaza, he crossed paths with a rowdy group of antibusing demonstrators.

Nearby, a news reporter was on site. Stanley Forman, a photojournalist who had asked to cover the demonstration, had been photographing the mob. He noticed a Black man — Landsmark, dressed in a three-piece suit — in the vicinity and had a hunch the situation would escalate.

Acting on his instinct, Forman pointed his camera in Landsmark’s direction, thus capturing the moment one of the demonstrators attacked the unsuspecting lawyer with a pole bearing the American flag. The image became the Pulitzer Prize-winning photo “The Soiling of Old Glory.”

“At that moment, I didn’t realize the impact of what I’d just photographed,” Forman said at a fireside chat on Feb. 27. The event was held at Foley Hoag, the law firm that took on pro bono the monumental Morgan v. Hennigan (1974) court case that led to school desegregation in Boston. Sitting side by side, Landsmark and Forman recounted the day from memory, reflecting on the striking image’s immediate effects and its impact nearly 50 years later.

Read more at the Bay State Banner.

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