“The soiling of Old Glory”

April 10, 2008

Slate takes a look at Stanley J. Forman’s photograph during the 1976 Boston busing crisis.

One of the events he probably had in mind was the controversy over busing that erupted in Boston in the mid-1970s. A single photograph epitomized for Americans the meaning and horror of the crisis. On April 5, 1976, at an anti-busing rally at City Hall Plaza, Stanley Forman, a photographer for the Boston Herald-American, captured a teenager as he transformed the American flag into a weapon directed at the body of a black man. It is the ultimate act of desecration, performed in the year of the bicentennial and in the shadows of Boston’s Old State House. Titled The Soiling of Old Glory, the photograph appeared in newspapers around the country and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1977. The image shattered the illusion that racial segregation and hatred were strictly a Southern phenomenon. For many, Boston now seemed little different than Birmingham.