on bernie boston’s iconic “flower power” photograph of 1967

Es­ti­mated reading time is 4 min­utes.

LOOK AT THIS PHOTO! Is there an image any­where that says “The Six­ties” better than a longishly-haired young man peace­fully placing a flower in the barrel of a bay­o­neted rifle pointing in his di­rec­tion? This photo was taken in 1967 when few males out­side of the Haight-Ashbury sec­tion of San Fran­cisco had grown their hair very long. Con­se­quently, these pro­tes­tors look so clean-cut, so non-Sixties-ish.

Pho­to­jour­nalist Bernie Boston took this photo on Oc­tober 21, 1967, during the march on the Pen­tagon mo­bi­lized by the Na­tional Mo­bi­liza­tion Com­mittee to End the War in Vietnam. De­pending on who you want to be­lieve, the event drew as few as 50,000 par­tic­i­pants or as many as 100,000—not in­cluding those in uni­form. 1


Bernie Boston’s photo is one of the most iconic im­ages of The Six­ties, and will re­main so as long as there is history.


As Bernie watched this mass of people and the armed troops that con­fronted them, he rec­og­nized the po­ten­tial for a dan­gerous con­fronta­tion. He also rec­og­nized a sit­u­a­tion that could in­spire some great photographs.

This young man ap­peared with flowers and pro­ceeded [to] put them down the rifle barrel,” he said. “And I was on the wall so I could see all this, and I just started shooting.”

Bernie did not get a chance to speak with any of his sub­jects. Con­se­quently, none of the men in one of the most fa­mous photos of the decade were iden­ti­fied. This in­cludes both the young man in the turtle­neck sweater, his fellow pro­tes­tors, and the mem­bers of the 503rd Mil­i­tary Po­lice Bat­talion. 2

When Bernie re­turned to The Wash­ington Star with his photos, things did not go as he ex­pected: in­ex­plic­ably, the ed­itor didn’t see the im­por­tance of the pic­ture, and buried both it and the story! 3

“I knew I had a good pic­ture,” Bernie stated. He en­tered the photo in var­ious com­pe­ti­tions under the title Flower Power, and it was nom­i­nated for a Pulitzer Prize. It be­came one of the most reprinted pic­tures of the ’60s, ap­pearing in mag­a­zines, books, gov­ern­ment text­books, and even doc­u­men­taries and tele­vi­sion specials.


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Almost a Pulitzer Prize

Bernie Boston’s par­ents gave him a Kodak Brownie camera when he was 7‑years-old. He be­came a pho­tog­ra­pher for his high school news­paper and year­book. In 1955, he grad­u­ated from the Rochester In­sti­tute of Tech­nology (RIT), then at­tended the US Air Force School of Avi­a­tion Med­i­cine. He served in the US Army for two years as a ra­di­ol­o­gist in Germany.

All the while taking photographs.

After his dis­charge, Bernie did free­lance work be­fore starting full-time pho­tog­raphy for The Dayton Daily News. He joined The Wash­ington Star and re­mained with them as di­rector of pho­tog­raphy until the paper folded in 1981. He then was hired by the Los An­geles Times, for whom he worked in the na­tion’s capital.


The paper didn’t see the im­por­tance of the pic­ture, but it was nom­i­nated for a Pulitzer Prize and be­came one of the most reprinted pic­tures of the ’60s.


Boston pho­tographed many im­por­tant people, in­cluding Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon, shaking hands with pro­testers after the 1968 riots in Wash­ington, ap­par­ently obliv­ious to the irony of the ges­ture. He cap­tured many well-known black leaders, in­cluding photos of Martin Luther King, Jr. during his Poor Peo­ple’s Cam­paign, and a por­trait of H. Rap Brown.

In 1987, while working for The Los An­geles Times, he was again nom­i­nated for a Pulitzer Prize, this time for his pho­to­graph of Coretta Scott King at the un­veiling of a bronze bust of her late hus­band in the US Capitol Rotunda.

Boston was pre­sented with the Joseph A. Sprague Memo­rial Award and was in­ducted into the Hall of Fame of Sigma Delta Chi, later known as the So­ciety of Pro­fes­sional Journalists.

Bernie Boston died in 2008 at the age of 74.

Bernie Boston’s ‘Flower Power’ is one of the quin­tes­sen­tial photos of The Six­ties. Click To Tweet

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FEA­TURED IMAGE: This is one of the quin­tes­sen­tial im­ages of The Six­ties and will no doubt re­main so as long as there is his­tory. The only thing that might make it more per­fect would be if a pretty young thing who looked like Sally Field (think Gidget) or Terri Garr (think Shindig) had been holding the arm of the young man smiling at the Guardsmen as the flower found its way into the barrel of the rifle.



1   “Hoping to at­tract young, ed­u­cated col­lege stu­dents, coör­di­nator David Dellinger ap­pointed Jerry Rubin to or­ga­nize the march. The ini­tial DC rally, which was gal­va­nized by a con­cert per­for­mance from Phil Ochs, drew ap­prox­i­mately 70,000 par­tic­i­pants at the Lin­coln Memo­rial. Fol­lowing Ochs’ con­cert, as well as speeches from Dellinger and Dr. Spock, around 50,000 of those at­tending were then led by Abbie Hoffman and marched from the Lin­coln Memo­rial to The Pen­tagon to par­tic­i­pate in a second rally.” (Wikipedia)

2   Sev­eral names for the young man have been put for­ward but none ver­i­fied. The most common is George Harris, who later founded the gender-bending en­ter­tain­ment troupe The Cock­ettes. Looking at this photo fifty years later, the young man with the longish blond hair looks some­what like me at the time.

3   Ed­i­to­ri­ally, this de­ci­sion is up there with Decca not signing the Bea­tles in 1962!


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