The Soiling of Old Glory
The photograph depicts a white teenager, Joseph Rakes, trying to assault black 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-bussing 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 arrested for assault with a deadly weapon and sentenced to two years in the House of Correction and two years probation. However, the jail sentence was suspended. In 1983, Boston police issued a warrant for the arrest of Rakes, who was, at the time, a resident of South Boston. The warrant alleged that Rakes had beaten to death the brother of his girlfriend. He fled Boston, but returned in 1988, after the murder charge was dropped. Rakes felt hurt by 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.