Bud Lee’s evocative images of the Newark riots

A new book highlights the late photographer’s role in the historic riots that took place in the New Jersey city in 1967, including his stark Life magazine cover of a 12-year-old victim

July 1967 will forever be remembered in Newark as the moment that the city exploded into a hotbed of protest and violence, following the arrest, beating, and imprisonment of cab driver John Smith by local police. Over the course of five days, 26 people were killed by police gunfire, while hundreds more were injured, thousands arrested, and millions of dollars in damage was caused.

At the time of the riots, Bud Lee was a novice imagemaker working at Life magazine. Having picked up a camera professionally in the military, the photographer (who passed away in 2015) would go on to shoot some of the biggest stories of the time for the likes of Esquire and Rolling Stone.

Lee was shooting a portrait of a Wall Street stockbroker when he received a call from Life requesting him to leave immediately to cover the civic uprising in Newark. He had little idea how significant the assignment would turn out to be, on both a personal and political level.

In The War Is Here: Newark 1967 we revisit the riots through Lee’s evocative lens, as he captured the transformation of the city into an urban war zone. The book features mostly unpublished images, all of them highlighting the police force’s misuse of power and the public’s palpable sense of fear.

Notably, the photographer witnessed first-hand two policemen shoot one of the victims, Billy Furr, in the back. The same bullets also hit and wounded 12-year-old Joey Bass Jr, and Lee’s image of the boy lying bleeding and contorted in pain on the ground featured on the cover of Life.

Today, Lee’s work is recognised for helping to spark a national conversation on race and police violence in the US, with his stark photo of Bass becoming the defining image of the ‘long, hot summer’ of 1967. Featuring a foreword by Newark Mayor Ras J Baraka, the book also highlights the continuing significance of the late photographer’s work over half a century on. His empathetic photographs of the people of Newark continue to resonate at a time when gun violence and police brutality remain a core issue in American life.

The War Is Here: Newark 1967 is published by Ze Books; zebooks.com