The Soiling of Old Glory
The photograph depicts a white teenager, Joseph Rakes, assaulting a black man, lawyer and civil rights activist Ted Landsmark, with a flagpole bearing the American flag as Landsmark was on his way to a meeting in the courthouse. It was taken in Boston on April 5, 1976, during one in a series of protests against court-ordered desegregation busing. It ran on the front page of the Herald American the next day, and also appeared in several newspapers across the country. It won the 1977 Pulitzer Prize for Spot Photography.
Rakes was swinging the flag and trying to hit him, not trying to spear him as it appears in the photo, and he narrowly missed. Landsmark was bloodied during the incident. An examination of all the photographs in the roll Forman shot reveals that Rakes missed Landsmark with the flag. Although anti-busing activist Jim Kelly appears to pin Landsmark's arms behind him, he is actually helping Landsmark to his feet. Kelly later positions himself between Landsmark and the other protestors to protect the lawyer. Landsmark had already been knocked to the ground, losing his glasses and suffering a broken nose, by the time he got up the famous picture was taken.
Rakes was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon and sentenced to two years imprisonment and two years probation. The jail sentence was suspended. In 1983 the Boston police issued a warrant alleging that Rakes had beaten to death the brother of his girlfriend. He fled prosecution, but returned in 1988 after the murder charge was dropped. Rakes carried the stigma of being known as "the flag kid", but eventually turned his life around, getting married and having a family while laboring as a construction worker and later in hazardous waste.
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- Louis P. Masur (2008). The Soiling of Old Glory: The Story of a Photograph That Shocked America. Bloomsbury Press.