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Graphic novel by UI professor spotlights black wealth before 1921 Tulsa Massacre

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A graphic novel illustrated by a University of Illinois professor aims to serve as a primer for young people to learn about the history of the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma, often known as Black Wall Street, destroyed by a white mob in 1921.

It’s called “Across the Tracks: Remembering Greenwood, Black Wall Street, and the Tulsa Race Massacre,” by Alverne Ball of Joliet.

Stacey Robinson, assistant professor of graphic design at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, illustrated the book. He said it is about the destruction, but also the rebuilding, of the city, and the survivors that to this day are still seeking justice.

“The weight of this subject matter is balanced by very beautiful, very opulent colors, and there’s joy in the book as well,” Robinson remarked. “American history did not happen in black and white; it did not happen in sepia tones. I wanted the audience to feel this Black beauty, to feel the opulence of this town.”

Survivors and descendants of the Tulsa Race Massacre are calling on the Justice Department to launch an investigation and help find the mass graves of hundreds of Black residents who were killed. They said they do not trust local and state officials to handle the remains with compassion, or to meaningfully investigate the deaths.

Robinson noted in Tulsa before 1921, it is said dollars circulated more than 20 times before leaving the Black community, which is a key component of wealth-building. He argued kids and teens should be aware of the history to help understand the racial wealth gap that exists today. The net worth of the average white family is ten times more than the average Black family.

“If you know Black Panther, there’s the nation of Wakanda, right? Well, Black people have had our Wakandas, we’ve had our Black liberated, autonomous spaces,” Robinson explained. “And when we have these spaces, they are destroyed because we are Black and affluent.”

Robinson added while the Tulsa Race Massacre is not often taught in schools, more and more people are learning about it with its 100-year anniversary. He noted the HBO series Watchmen and Lovecraft Country, set in Tulsa, are also boosting awareness, and hopes the graphic novel can serve as another entry point.

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