July 1967. After the arrest, beating, and imprisonment of cab driver John Smith by local police, the city of Newark--already a tinderbox, became a hotbed of protest and retaliation. Over five long days, 26 people were killed by police gunfire and hundreds more were injured, thousands arrested, and millions of dollars in property damage was caused. The scars on the city remained for decades.
Bud Lee, a 26-year-old novice photographer for Life magazine, was shooting a portrait of a Wall Street stockbroker when a call came in requesting he leave immediately to cover the civic uprising in Newark, which had already been raging for two days. Lee and Life magazine reporter Dale Wittner arrived in the city late on 14th July. What they found was a majority Black population--already living in deprivation under a thoroughly corrupt local government, and a vicious, authoritarian police force--struggling to maintain some semblance of normalcy under extraordinary circumstances: stores burnt and looted; a city under siege by trigger-happy city and state police; and the young, inexperienced, and exhausted National Guardsmen, sent to patrol it day and night.
The War is Here: Newark 1967 (ZE Books, 2023) documents the several days Bud Lee spent in Newark. These photographs, most of which have never been published, capture life in a city transformed into an urban war zone and killing ground, something Lee would witness first-hand on seeing two policemen shoot a man named Billy Furr in the back, murdering him in cold blood. This, Lee captured in a dramatic sequence of images that ran in Life.
The same bullets also hit and wounded a 12-year-old boy named Joey Bass Jr., who had been playing at a nearby intersection. Lee's stark, emotional image of Bass, lying bleeding and contorted in pain on dirty concrete, ran on the July 28, 1967 cover of Life, sparking a national conversation on race and police violence, and becoming the defining image of the 'long, hot summer' of '67--a summer of fire and fury, protest and rage across the country. Over half a century later, Bud Lee's raw, desolate, and empathetic photographs of the people of Newark, at a turning point in the city's history, continue to resonate: a testament to their resilience and fortitude.