It wasn't easy to tell the story of the rioting that broke out 50 years ago Wednesday in Newark, N.J., and continued over several chaotic and destructive days during which more than two dozen people were killed.
As the editors' note in the issue of LIFE magazine dedicated to the riots explained, the photographers and reporters who had been sent to cover the news "faced danger and death in the riot-torn city, ducking sniper fire, skirting angry mobs, wondering if the jittery Guardsmen and trigger-happy police might not next open up on them." LIFE devoted particular attention to the sniper fire, which was widely — and as it turns out, erroneously — believed at the time to have been directed toward law enforcement.
Despite the danger and challenges on the ground, LIFE's journalists — among them Frank Dandridge, the photographer behind the images seen in this slideshow — got access to a side of the story that might otherwise have gone unseen, as the editors' note explained:
"In the midst of the violence we were able to make contact with one of Newark's Black Nationalist leaders. Our request: to photograph one of the elusive snipers. After much consultation Photographer Frank Dandridge, who is a Negro, was led through the streets to an abandoned tenement, up four flights of stairs and into a front room where he was allowed to take the picture of page 17 [seen in the third slide above]."
For all of its emphasis on the role of snipers, the magazine's reporting hinted at what we now know to be true: the fear of organized snipers among the rioters was unfounded.