An AfroFuturist framing of "Bitter Root."

Date of Event



An AfroFuturist framing of "Bitter Root."

Brief Description

The comic book "Bitter Root" uses afrofuturism and its sub-genres to frame and reimagine the events of the "Red Summer of 1919"

Extended Description

After world war one, Black veterans and Black U.S. citizens alike were hopeful of a brighter and more equal future. Many had felt that black soldiers defending the U.S. and its democracy was enough to prove that people of color were worthy to be first-class citizens just like their white counterparts. As a postal official wrote at the time, “the negro publicists began to avail themselves of the argument that since the negro was fit to wear the uniform, he was, therefore, fit for everything else” (Higgins). Respect and celebration were expected upon the arrival of the brave black men in uniform who had sacrificed their lives for the constitution. Unfortunately, that same uniform became more of a target for these men. At the same time this war was ending, the northern part of the U.S was going through significant changes because of the Great Migration. The Black population in northern cities increased exponentially, leading to more living spaces and jobs being occupied by African Americans. This occupation, in turn, caused major panic amongst the white community as they feared for their jobs and home security. The Great Migration and Black soldiers returning and demanding rights, this fear that white people had soon turned into mass violence that spread countrywide. Between the riots, lynching, and armed mobs that were happening, the black community was not going to stand down and let all this injustice happened to them. These events prompted them to stand up and defend themselves; especially the uprising of black, armed militias who would protect the African American people and their neighborhoods from white mobs and police alike. In other words, this time era became known as the “Red Summer of 1919,” the year African Americans fought back.

The comic book “Bitter Root” written by David F. Walker and Chuck Brown, tells the story of a monster-hunting family in Harlem, New York, set in the 1920s. This family called the Sangeryes to come face to face with monsters who feed off of prejudice and hate. This prejudice and hatred are also represented through the treatment of African Americans in the story itself. This family also struggles with the events of the “Red Summer of 1919” and the trauma it caused for them. They highlight this era and make it a focal point of the book. Through the experience of the Sangeryes, you get a feel for how this period shaped and affected their reality. Through the use of different sub-genres of the afro-futurist frame, “Bitter Root” becomes a means of depicting the experience and events of 1919.

The ethnogothic is a very prominent theme in the book. The ethnogothic genre is where supernatural events and stories are used to dismantle and shine a light on topics involving racism and oppression. The ethnogothic genre in this book uses magical creatures and events to depict and highlight the traumas from 1919. While the monsters and the technology used in this book fall under this genre, what is most important to take away is the story's setup and plot. During an increase of monsters and demons, the world's fate is in the hands of the Sangeryes, a Black-family with a very particular, unique, and special set of skills. They have the knowledge and training necessary to deal with the situation, and they also take on the responsibility of using those skills to fight for this cause, saving the world of these monsters. This plot exhibits the same events that people experienced in 1919. The book targets the main point of the actual events, such as increased racial violence and the Black soldiers using their training to protect. The author reiterates the real story of 1919 in a way that brings creativity and perspective. The supernatural twist to natural history draws a comparison between the Red Summer and the Sangeryes experience to emphasize black trauma and suffering. Its purpose is to bring readers back into these historical events and get an inside look at how it may be rather than reading a simple history article that portrays many negative instances as things of the past that have no importance. Through ethnogothic methods, it is shown that the black experience of 1919 and the black experience, in general, apply to the present day and multiple events through history.

A piece of fiction written with the intent to scare and disgusts falls under the genre of horror. Horror Noire is the depiction and implementation of African Americans and African American culture in horror. In “Bitter Root,” the representation of this horror genre is shown mainly through the presence of monsters within the book. In the book, we have two types of monsters: the Jinoo are humans who turn into monsters as a result of feelings like racism, hatred, and bigotry. In comparison, Inzondo are demons from another realm that pose as humans to spread racism, bigotry, and hatred. Regardless of the type, both monsters alike wreak havoc and violence all over. The monsters represent the inner demons of those who, in those times, spread violence, corruption, and fear, especially towards the black community. The author uses the creatures as a symbol of the racism and hatred that was ongoing in 1919. They are the walking truth and prove that the hardships that people of color may experience are not always a result of their wrongdoing or systemic issues. It results from the skewed existence of deep inner conflicts and feelings of hatred others may have toward them. Often, racism comes from people letting their feelings and opinions speak for their actions rather than turning to their humanity for guidance.

With the book set in 1920, we see much-advanced technology for its time. The portrayal of such technology in this book is known as “steamfunk,” which combines African and African American culture with steampunk. Steampunk is the science fiction sub-genre of taking 19th-century aesthetics and technology and rearranging it to look more futuristic. Within the book, we come across various weaponry that is easily distinguishable by its gears and steam engine makeup. However, in contrast, we see these same weapons and gadgets performing tasks that in actual history don’t happen for decades, maybe even a century after. We are also introduced to the Sangeryes' knowledge of roots, the very essence of their weapons, and what they use to deal with Jinoo and Inzondo. This real-life traditional practice of knowing about roots and herbs is taken and is weaponized under this genre. These details within the book are tools to bring to life the experience and roles of Black veterans in 1919. Black veterans being the only ones with combat and weapons training are left to protect their respective people and neighborhoods from white threats because they are the only ones who can do it correctly and efficiently. The veterans are comparable to the Sangeryes and their weapons and combat training. They are the only ones who can protect the world because they are the only ones who can effectively use their weapons and deal with the monsters. Whether it’s implementing the real-life study of roots or the importance of black soldiers, these pieces of history and traditions are the inspirations that play into the foundation that give characters distinguishable traits. Moreover, the use of these traditions and history is how the authors show and bring to light the power of education in the hands of Black people and how much it has empowered them and allowed them to propel society forward.

The comic book “Bitter Root” portrays the events of the “Red Summer of 1919” using sub-genres of the afrofuturist frame. It uses the ethnogothic to structure how both steamfunk and horror noire are used in the story. The use of the “steamfunk” genre allowed the reader to connect and really understand history through the ability to relate to the technological aspect. These genres were merely vessels by which the story was able to emphasize hidden meanings and messages that lie within the African American history of this country.


Harlem, New York

Student creator name(s)

José Moreno De Los Santos

Afrofuturism Canon


Item sets