Behind the camera: Bernie Boston
Where: One of the last big protest marches on the Pentagon
Photo Summary: 18 years old George Harris placing flowers into the rifle barrels of National Guardsman
Picture Taken: October 21, 1967
In late 1967 Bernie Boston was a reporter for the Washington Star a now-defunct newspaper. After he took this famous picture Star publishers didn’t see the value of the image and buried it the A section of their paper. Not deterred Bernie Boston sent the image out to various photo competitions which resulted in a number of awards, prizes, and international recognition.
Taking the photo
The end of the 60s saw a number of anti-Vietnam war protests. Covering one of the last big protests Bernie sat with his camera on a wall at the Mall Entrance to the Pentagon. While the protest neared the gates Bernie watched as a National Guardsman lieutenant marched a group of armed men into the sea of demonstrators. The squad formed a semi-circle, their guns pointed at the demonstrators.
In a 2006 interview, Bernie remembers thinking things could have got ugly when all of a sudden, “this young man appeared with flowers and proceeded . . . [to] put them down the rifle barrel,” Boston told National Public Radio. “And I was on the wall so I could see all this, and I just started shooting.”
While he knew he had a good picture the Star editors didn’t feel the same way and gave the picture minimal coverage. “The editor didn’t see the importance of the picture,” Boston said later. “We buried it … I entered it in contests, and it started winning everything and being recognized.”
A Washington, D.C. native Bernie Boston was born May 18, 1933, in the midst of the Great Depression. He grew up in McLean, Virginia and found his calling early when he became a photographer for his high school newspaper and yearbook. Fast forward to university when he graduated with a degree in photography from the Rochester Institute of Technology. He followed his education by in 1955 joining the army for three years. After his military service, he worked at Dayton Daily News in Ohio in 1963 and three years later joined the staff of the Washington Star, where he remained until the paper folded in 1981. When the Star went under he found work as a staff photographer in its Washington D.C. bureau. In 1994 Boston and his wife moved to Basye, Virginia where he published and she edited the Bryce Mountain Courier.
Not a photographer that is defined by the Flower Power image Bernie would over his career shoot a number of famous people of the era including every president from Harry Truman to Bill Clinton. In 1987 he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, in the spot news category, for his photograph of King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, at an unveiling of a bronze bust of her assassinated husband.
Bernie Boston died at his home in Basye on Tuesday, January 22, 2008. His wife released a statement that he died from complications of amyloidosis, a rare disease in which abnormal proteins build up in organs and tissues. He was 74 years old. Boston is survived by his wife, an aunt and two nieces.
The young protester who captured the nature of the 60s protest movement turned out to be an 18 years old actor, George Edgerly Harris III, from New York on his way to California. He would later reveal that he was gay and took the stage name, Hibiscus. He co-founded a far-out, psychedelic, gay-themed cross-dressing troupe called The Cockettes. His life would be captured in the 2002 film of the same name made by David Weissman. Hibiscus died an early victim of the AIDS epidemic that struck the West coast gay community.