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Developed at Stanford, a website about comedian Richard Pryor's early years reveals the complex history of race in an American sin city

Image of Richard Pryor alongside a map of the red-light district in Peoria, IL

Richard Pryor's early years in the red-light district of Peoria

 

Image Credit: Stanford News
Jan 13 2015

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In the News

With maps, photos, news clippings and written artifacts about Pryor's roots in Illinois, the interactive website "Richard Pryor's Peoria" offers an online tool to learn about segregation, urban renewal and the roots of Pryor's comedy.

Most people remember Richard Pryor as a groundbreaking African American comedian and social critic who crossed over Hollywood’s racial boundaries in the 1970s with a string of buddy comedies co-starring Gene Wilder. What many don’t know, however, is how his early years spent in the red-light district of Peoria, Illinois, shaped his evolution as an artist.

Pryor’s early experiences have been brought to life in “Richard Pryor’s Peoria,” an interactive website with rich archival detail created by Stanford’s Spatial History Project and the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis (CESTA), along with the D-Lab, a resource at the University of California, Berkeley, for data-intensive social science projects.

The website curates over 200 primary sources drawn from the comedian’s formative years growing up during the mid-1950s in brothels run by his grandmother and father. Photos, news clippings and other written artifacts not only offer insight into the comedian’s rough childhood and adolescence but also convey the complicated racial history of this legendarily “typical” Midwestern city.