Stars And Strife:The Racial Collision That Involved The Flag, School Buses, And A Photo That Shocked The Nation

2 Posted by - December 16, 2023 - BLACK MEN, CIVIL RIGHTS, LATEST POSTS

The incident on Boston’s City Hall Plaza took no more than 15 seconds, Ted Landsmark recalls. He was set upon and punched; someone swung an American flag at him; his attackers fled; he glanced down at his suit. “I realized I was covered with blood, and at that moment I understood that something quite significant had happened.”

 What had happened was partly an accident of timing—a collision between a man walking to a meeting and young protesters out to make a point, a skirmish in Boston’s epic confrontation over court-ordered busing to desegregate the city’s public schools. But in Stanley J. Forman’s photograph, the symbolism of the moment—the anger, the flag, the staggered figure that happened to be Ted Landsmark—seemed to epitomize the frustrations and grievances of a city on the edge.

Boston’s battle over busing dominated local civic life for more than a decade following a federal judge’s 1974 order to desegregate the schools. (The judge, W. Arthur Garrity, withdrew from the case 16 years later.) Forman, then a photographer for the Boston Herald American, had covered the issue from the start. “I was there for every bad thing that happened,” he says, “and this was the climax of it—of everything bad that can happen when you live in a town that is so heated up.”

On that day, April 5, 1976, Forman went to City Hall Plaza to photograph a demonstration by students opposed to busing. After taking a few pictures of the protesters, he glanced over his shoulder. “I saw this black man coming around the corner and a bell went off in my head,” he says. “And I said, ‘They’re going to get him!’ I didn’t think they would get him with the flag.”

Landsmark, a Yale-educated lawyer then 29, was late for a meeting on affirmative action in city construction projects. As he walked toward city hall, he was mulling over what he planned to say, when a crowd rounded a corner and suddenly approached him.

“There wasn’t anything for me to do at that point other than to walk straight,” recalls Landsmark, now president of the Boston Architectural Center, an architectural college.

Several people assaulted him; his glasses were knocked off; he was hit and kicked. Joseph Rakes, then 17, swung a flagpole bearing the Stars and Stripes at him—Landsmark says Rakes tried to hit him but not spear him, as Forman’s picture suggests—and narrowly missed. One blow broke Landsmark’s nose.

A labor foreman now living in Maine, Rakes vividly recalls the “blind anger” that motivated him—anger aimed, he says, at the urban policies that were ruining the close-knit South Boston neighborhood where he’d grown up. “When the busing started, it was, ‘You can’t have half your friends’—that’s the way it was put towards us,” Rakes says. “They took half the guys and girls I grew up with and said, ‘You’re going to school on the other side of town.’ Nobody understood it at [age] 15.”

The day he borrowed his family’s flag for the demonstration, Rakes says, he was simmering with two years of pent-up frustration. Another set of protesters threw debris and rocks at his group, he adds, and that “sent everybody over the edge….It kind of exploded at that moment.”

The photograph won Forman his second consecutive Pulitzer Prize.

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  • Treasure at tampines May 8, 2019 - 6:02 am

    Future residents of Treasure at Tampines . We were talking about it earlier on! SHARE this with your family & friends 🙂

  • Terry Moore June 19, 2020 - 10:44 am

    17, and all of that evil. What I didn’t read was regret and an apology to the man he could have killed. What I didn’t read was his racism that was his motivation either. What I did read were his excuses for his awful and ugly behavior. His family could have moved away and he could have lost all of his friends. Was he going to beat up his mother and father with the flag?