This morning, NPR reminded me that this photo was taken 40 years ago, in spring 1976:
It's Boston, of course, during the battle over busing. What I didn't know was that the black man being assaulted had nothing to do with the protests. He was just hurrying from his parked car to a meeting at city hall.
The white man with the flag used as a weapon was a high school student, let out of class by officials who wanted to foment unrest against busing.
The fact that the black man, Ted Landsmark, was a Yale-educated lawyer while the white man was not yet out of high school shouldn't go unnoticed. Landsmark's three-piece suit marked him as educated, even if no observer could have known the extent of his class elevation over the typical white Bostonian.
"The first person to attack me hit me from behind, which knocked off my glasses and ended up breaking my nose. The flag being swung at me came at me just moments after that and missed my face by inches," Landsmark recalls.This 2008 article argues the flag was not being used as a weapon, but it felt that way to Landsmark. A 2006 article from Smithsonian makes it clear that the attacker, Joseph Rakes, was trying to hit Landsmark with the flag, but not spear him with it. Which is soooo much better, right? (Rakes was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon and received a two-year suspended sentence.)
"The entire incident took about seven seconds."
There's no sharper representation of our recent controversy about athletes standing or not standing for the national anthem. The flag or another overt symbol of patriotism is being used to undermine equality and freedom of all people, not just white people.