The Soiling of Old Glory: The Story of a Photograph That Shocked America

Thomas Sugrue writes:

Of the various iconic representations of the flag of the last half-century, from Jasper Johns’s series of paintings to the image of construction workers hoisting it above the debris at the collapsed World Trade Center in September 2001, one of the most famous is the subject of Louis Masur’s latest book. On 5 April 1976, the photographer Stanley Forman of the Boston Herald American followed a group of anti-Civil Rights protesters onto the plaza outside Boston’s City Hall. His picture shows Joseph Rakes, a white teenager, wielding Old Glory as a spear, lunging forward as if he were about to impale Theodore Landsmark, a well-dressed black attorney who’d had the misfortune to cross paths with the protesters. As Landsmark tries to dodge his attacker, a heavy-set white man appears to restrain him, readying him for martyrdom.

(LRB 20 November 2008)