Full of Anxiety and Some Fear

A Photographer Remembers the 1967 Newark Uprising

Evan Strauss • Jun 10, 2019

In living memory, as in the recorded image, history is recorded in ways that are both fundamentally honest and profoundly subjective. This is especially true when recounting events which exceed, in one way or another, one's capacity to fully comprehend. The limits of comprehension must surely have been tested during the summer of 1967 when 159 “race riots” erupted across the American landscape of poor, black urban communities as well as with the 159 instances of brutal, violent suppression at the hands of the police and military.

When considered in totality: these events resonate with that particular kind of virulent racism perpetrated by the American state apparatus across centuries and upon which the very reality of the nation seems to obliquely rest. This is the kind of racism from which a nation can emerge and proceed to produce citizens that claim ignorance to the very existence of racial inequality and state violence.

When the events of that summer are considered singularly: each individual instance of social uprising, resistance and violence reflect every single impacted community's unique sociopolitical circumstances as well as the people who experienced these, at times fatal, events.

Of course we don't have to subscribe to such absolute forms of binary reflection. Instead we might observe, remember and learn from a place that resides somewhere between the singular and the total. From this place each and every voice, memory and image may speak to events that are at once fiercely personal and inscribed by a history that is incomprehensibly dynamic.

My father Robert Strauss was 20 years old, on break from college and living at his family home in South Orange, New Jersey during that long, hot summer of 1967. That July he photographed the four days of rioting, police violence and military response that gripped Newark, New Jersey. His connections to Newark, his reasons for documenting these events and the sustained impact these experiences have had on him are complex. My father has always been more apt to communicate through photography than narrative and, though I have seen his photos of Newark many times, he and I had hardly spoken about his lived experience until I conducted two interviews with him in 2018. In the resulting interviews he described his photographs and memories in detailed, arresting and often disquieting terms. His narrative and photography provides a document of what it can mean to carry, for a half century, memories and images that are as honest as they are brutally relevant to our present reality.

— Evan Strauss, May 2019

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