Told  /  Book Review

A Haunting Portrait of Newark’s Bloody Summer of Unrest

The photojournalist Bud Lee captured the riots of 1967 and the human cost of the brutal police crackdown.

In a photograph that appeared on the cover of Life’s July 28, 1967, issue, a twelve-year-old boy named Joey Bass, Jr., lies contorted in the middle of a street in Newark, New Jersey. His bluejeans and high-tops look stained—muddied, perhaps, from playing in the grass earlier that day. Blood pools around him, following a jagged course on the concrete beneath his body. The magazine’s logo, in the top-left corner, partially obscures the boots of a hovering police officer. Bass was wounded that summer as Newark law enforcement attempted to suppress an uprising sparked by the beating of a Black cabdriver. After the unrest began, on July 12th, the police director Dominick Spina, through the city’s mayor, had asked Governor Richard Hughes to deploy state police and the National Guard. Hughes instituted a citywide curfew, and Spina, in a chilling directive issued over police radio, instructed his officers to use a gun if they had one. “This is a criminal insurrection by people who say they hate the white man but who really hate America,” Hughes told the Times. In the end, twenty-six people died over a four-day period, while hundreds more were injured; no officers were ever indicted.

The photographer who captured Bass, Jr., for the cover of Life was Bud Lee, a twenty-six-year-old who had spent the past three years as a military photographer for Stars & Stripes before being recruited to Life by Peggy Sargent, the magazine’s photo editor. Prior to the Newark assignment, he had been dispatched to document the first legal abortion in the United States, in Denver. (The magazine never printed the images.) On the day he was assigned to cover the events in Newark, he had been shooting a portrait of a Wall Street stockbroker. The summer meant a dearth of other available photographers, and he was asked to step in, accompanied by the reporter Dale Wittner.

A book of Lee’s images from Newark, titled “The War Is Here,” was recently published by Z.E. Books, drawing on a large archive of unpublished photographs that Life returned to his family in 2016. (Ras Baraka, the mayor of Newark, provides a foreword in which he recalls that his father, Amiri Baraka, was detained during the uprising and struck over the head by a police officer who had once been a schoolmate.) In Lee’s pictures, the young soldiers of the National Guard appear bemused, with Newark’s landscape stretching out before them like a foreign war zone. They nap in storefronts and lie on bleachers. In one image, they stand with their bayonets pointing in the air, trained on an invisible target.