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."