Perspectives on '67: Uprising In Newark

Jul 21, 2017

12-year-old Joe Bass Jr. was hit by buckshot spread during a police/civilian altercation. Another photo of Bass Jr. shocked the world on the cover of the July 28, 1967 issue of Life Magazine. Joe Bass Jr. survived.
Credit Bud Lee Archives / Sergio Waksman Design

Media coverage of the 1967 Newark Rebellion depicted chaos in New Jersey’s largest city, but many people who were there say some major inaccuracies were reported as fact.

“Sniper Fire from open windows kills two policemen a fire captain shot in the back while answering a false alarm and several bystanders. Officials say the snipers, some not believed to be Newark residents use guns stolen from a local rifle factory.  Even machine guns were used,” said one movie house newsreel following the Newark riots.

Former Newark Mayor Sharpe James says there were no civilian snipers in Newark during the 1967 riot.  An executive order put in place by President Lyndon Johnson studied the cause of uprisings in cities nationwide.

“C’mon, the untold story of those who fired their weapon, the national guard, the state police, you can’t put it on the people,” said James.  “It’s called the Kerner Commission, all of that points out there’s no excuse for someone living on the third floor being shot by a state trooper, or national guard.  They weren’t carrying a sofa, they weren’t breaking a window, but indiscriminately see a person, take dead aim, fire.”

The July 28th, 1967 edition of LIFE Magazine was dedicated to the unrest in Newark.  It’s cover photo infamous, depicting 12-year-old Joe Bass Jr. bleeding on the asphalt streets. He was hit with buckshot spread moments before the picture was taken.  Joe Bass Jr. would survive.  The young man who took a majority of the shotgun blast, former Newark Mayor Ken Gibson remembers reading about him.

Newark Police wait for an ambulance to arrive on the scene.
Credit Bud Lee Archives / Sergio Waksman Design

“I’ll never forget the picture.  They called it 'The Killing of Billy Furr'.  He was one of the people who was shot by a Newark policeman with a shotgun because he was running across the street with some beer from a liquor store that they had taken.  The cop levelled down and shot him as he ran away from them.”

Faith Jones remembers her cousin Billy Furr, and the shock of seeing the last moments of his life through a camera lens.

“From what the family has said, he came down just to see what was going on.  He went through having a discussion with the state troopers.  They showed that photograph.  The family believes that he asked permission to go in to get a cold beer on a hot day when there was all of this chaos going on.  They showed the picture of him going in, they showed the picture of him coming out with the beer, and they showed him shot down on the ground dead.  They felt like it was a racist type of situation and they murdered him.  They killed him.”

The Furr family would receive financial compensation for their loss, but the sting of losing a loved one still lingers.

'Killing of Billy Furr, Caught in the Act of Looting Beer': The photo tells half of the story, the headline barely tells the story. Photographer Bud Lee would later say the beer looting was part of a photo set-up gone wrong.
Credit Bud Lee Archives / Sergio Waksman Design

“All of the money in the world can never bring him back,” Jones said.  “We always think about him, talk about him around family reunions.  Justice is never served when a murder is committed.”

Half a century after the uprising, current Mayor Ras Baraka struggles to reinvent Brick city.

“When you go further and further from Newark, people who have never been here, their whole opinion of what happens here comes through that lens.  I think it created a foundation for the way people view the city now.  It’s still centered around 1967.”

Only time can tell if the city of Newark will emerge from the shadows of its past.