During ANTIQUES ROADSHOW’s 2018 event in Sarasota, Florida, a guest named Bob brought in a copy of the famous “Soiling of Old Glory” photograph, signed by Stanley Forman, the photographer who took the original. Forman had worked for Bob’s father, Alvin, who in 1976 was serving as city editor for the Boston Herald.
On Monday, April 5, 1976, Alvin assigned Forman the task of photographing a demonstration taking place in Boston’s Government Center by people who opposed the city's busing policy, which was intended to enforce desegregation of Boston's public schools. The protesters consisted of about a hundred high school students from South Boston and Charlestown. Bob recalls:
“[My father] assigned Stanley Forman to a photography shoot at a demonstration. The picture is one that Stanley took as a consequence of an altercation in front of the City Hall.”
It was an incident that lasted about seven seconds, but its impact would shake the nation. On Monday, April 5th Ted Landsmark was late to a meeting. The Yale-educated 29-year-old was working as an attorney in Boston, using his social justice education and urban studies major to push for more minority contractors within Boston’s construction industry. In an NPR article from September 2018, Landsmark, who is now a professor of public policy and urban affairs at Northeastern University, recalled his state of mind that morning:
“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 the corner.”
When the two parties met, Landsmark stated that he was punched by one of the teenage protesters, which knocked his glasses off and broke his nose. The group yelled racial slurs at him. Suddenly, an American flag, wielded by 17-year-old Joseph Rakes, was shoved towards Landsmark, missing his face by inches. As quickly as the assault had started, the teenage mob dissolved, leaving Landsmark bloody on the ground.
A nearby police officer jumped to Landsmark’s aid, grabbing him by the arm to assist him, yet Landsmark refused the help:
“I had an instinctive response that a white police officer holding the arm of a young black person was almost certainly to be interpreted as an arrest.”
Landsmark recalls that he requested the officer release his arm and let him walk on his own.
After the attack, Landsmark checked into Massachusetts General Hospital, where an opportunity presented itself in the wake of the violent ordeal. While in medical care, Landsmark was attended by an African American doctor who told him there was a swarm of photographers waiting outside, and that the young lawyer had a choice. Landsmark described the options his doctor gave him:
“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 a 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.”
This was Landsmark’s chance to show America the racial violence that had occurred in the city that day, and the consequences of that violence.
Two days later, Landsmark attended a press conference, donning white bandages from his upper lip to his forehead, reminiscent of a hockey mask. In his interview, after commending Deputy Chief Clarence Jones who assisted him after the attack, Landsmark stated that he blamed members of the Boston School Committee and the Boston City Council for encouraging the city’s youth to take such violent action that morning. He also stated he would seek full prosecution of his attackers.
Although Landsmark was already working to push for social justice in Boston, he was a relatively unknown figure in the city. In an odd turn of events, this spontaneous act of hostility towards Landsmark provided the stepping stone he needed to elevate his voice as an activist in the community:
“I had done a lot of things prior to being attacked on City Hall Plaza that were about social justice and fairness and equity, and I have done a lot of things since,” Landsmark told NBC10 in the fall of 2018. “My life is determined by the mission that enabled me after that photograph was taken to articulate a set of values that are important within Boston and elsewhere.”
At the age of 73, Ted Landsmark is still working towards his goal of spreading the ideals of social justice throughout Boston. He is currently a distinguished professor of public policy and urban affairs and director of the Kitty and Michael Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University.
To read more about the 1976 attack, Ted Landsmark, and his work, visit:
Theodore C. Landsmark Northeastern University: Theodore C. Landsmark
Ted Landsmark: Unsung Champion for Social Justice in Boston "When a Moment Comes By, Be Ready"
Life After Iconic 1976 Photo: The American Flag's Role In Racial Protest A look at what an iconic photo meant for the subjects and photographer.
Stars and Strife A clash of cultures at Boston’s City Hall in 1976 symbolized the city’s years-long confrontation with the busing of schoolchildren
Theodore C. Landsmark's Biography A brief biography of Landsmark's life and career highlights.