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Bill Russell statue site symbol of city shame

Statue site symbol of city shame

By Margery Eagan  |   Thursday, July 14, 2011  |  http://www.bostonherald.com |  Columnists
busing

Photo by Stanley Forman

It just doesn’t feel quite right.

The planned statue of Bill Russell, Celtics [team stats] great and blunt civil rights crusader, will stand within a few yards of the place where a young black lawyer was attacked by a white man wielding the staff of an American flag during a 1976 anti-busing demonstration.

The photo, titled “The Soiling of Old Glory,” earned a Pulitzer Prize for then-Boston Herald-American photographer Stanley Forman. It’s known worldwide. It remains a searing symbol of this city’s racial turmoil and is a huge, ugly but significant part of our history.

But not one official has mentioned this compelling juxtaposition in all the reports on the statue this week. Either local planners missed the historical significance entirely or they realized and ignored it, anyway. Mayor Menino told me Tuesday the Russell statue placement had nothing to do with the attack on Ted Landsmark.

Yet the irony was the first thing Frank Braudis thought of when he learned about the Russell statue planned for the south side of City Hall Plaza near a Planet Fitness gym. “It occurred to me right away,” said Braudis, 57, of Wakefield yesterday during a break from his job near City Hall.

“Did the decision makers remember that, and if they did, what’s their sensitivity to something like that?” asked Eugenie Williams, a 69-year-old semi-retired Boston educator. A black woman, she said sensitivity to the history of the Landsmark photo matters.

Don’t get me wrong. The Russell statue’s overdue. I’m not implying any ill will. Nearly everyone I interviewed yesterday, including Braudis, Williams and Landsmark himself, thought it was absolutely fine to place the Russell statue there.

Said Landsmark, now president of Boston Architectural College: “To have his statue in that location I think is a very appropriate symbol of where Boston has come from and what it is that Bostonians aspire to be. (Bill Russell) showed a kind of fortitude and courage in standing up to certain racial intolerance and general injustice,’’ Landsmark said. “He was willing to really call out issues of racial intolerance in the city and there have been many other athletes here and elsewhere who opted not to.”

But Landsmark, too, wondered about the siting process.

“I don’t know how the decision was made, and I’m intrigued by that,” he said.

So am I.

I’m particularly intrigued by whether the Bill Russell Legacy Committee even realized the site was the scene of the Landsmark attack. It will also sit, as Landsmark pointed out yesterday, near where Crispus Attucks, a black man, was shot by the British during the Boston Massacre.

The committee had no comment on the location, but would follow the mayor’s lead, said Celtics spokeswoman Heather Walker.

Maybe we have short memories around here. But they can’t be this short. Or this blind.

Here’s the bottom line: We just can’t build a grand monument to Bill Russell — the Celtics great often treated badly here because of his race — while ignoring what happened just a few feet away.

Article URL: http://www.bostonherald.com/news/columnists/view.bg?articleid=1351725

 

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1 Comments

  1. Kevin Krueger

    Jahmarl, I’ve told hundreds of sports fans about the importance of Russell’s statue and assumed its juxtaposition near city hall was to signify his outspoken fight against institutionalized racism. WGBH’s Callie Crossley reported that today, Sept 8th, 2014 is the 40th anniversary that bussing in Boston started to integrate schools. Immediately, I thought of Stanley Forman’s photo (I met him in 2010 as he filmed a story on my Fenway store for channel 5 WCVB. Reading more about his powerful photo, I learned that snapshot of time wasn’t a precise depiction of the three men’s actions (article below); however, evokes the real sentiments of racial stress many in this city experience.

    Bill Russell’s 11 championships only strengthen his true legacy as an outspoken American hero that sets a tone for organizational and societal success as a meritocracy. His mentor programs and 1960s challenges to Boston’s racists only make the location of his statue more appropriate, whether the statue committee want to cover up The Soiling of Old Glory imagery or celebrate the opportunity to move forward together.

    http://www.usnews.com/news/national/articles/2008/04/04/a-flag-a-busing-fight-and-a-famous-photograph

    – “Coach” Kevin Krueger, SupahFans Streetwear Founder

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