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GREENWOOD, Tulsa—Leaders of the Greenwood Rising museum announced on Thursday the creation of a new digital guide app that gives viewers around the world a virtual experience.
The release of the new digital guide, which utilizes virtual reality technology, comes a year after the opening of the first museum dedicated to retelling the tragedy of the Tulsa Race Massacre and the triumph of Black Wall Street.
Thanks to a partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies, the new Greenwood Rising digital guide can now be accessed by downloading The Bloomberg Connects app and typing in “Greenwood Rising.”
“We have received visitors from 43 of the 50 states, as well as Sweden, South America, Australia and most recently, a direct visit from the executive director of the Holocaust Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa,” Greenwood Rising interim executive director Phil Armstrong told reporters on Thursday, highlighting the immense impact the museum has had in just its first year.
Prior to opening in August 2021, Armstrong said his team expected to host 2500 visitors per month and 30,000 visitors per year.
“With my team tracking the numbers on a weekly basis, we have averaged 4600 visitors per month and 56,349 for the first year,” he said.
Now, from the palm of their hand, users of the new app will have a virtual guide of exhibits like Greenwood Spirit, which explores the establishment of the historic community, Memories of Greenwood, a rare collection of first-person accounts from witnesses of the Black Wall Street massacre, and “20 for 21,” a photo series that combines historic and present-day photographs of Tulsa.
In recent years, millions around the world have become aware of the events between May 31 and June 1 of 1921, when a deputized white mob stormed over 35 square blocks of Greenwood District that was home to over 10,000 residents.
The savage mob killed upwards of 300 Black men, women and children, destroying over 1,250 homes and businesses, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society. Yet, many are unaware that Black Wall Street leaders immediately rebuilt and grew Greenwood into a economic and social powerhouse in the 40’s that dwarfed its vibrance prior to the Massacre.
Now, Bloomberg Connects, which offers free digital guides to cultural organizations around the world, has added Greenwood Rising to its listings for the world to experience.
“For far too long the terrible actions that occurred within these few blocks in 1921 were hidden from the public,” Oklahoma Historical Society executive director Trait Thompson said. “They were a source of shame to the people of Tulsa. And the conventional wisdom of the day said it was better to move on and forget them than to reckon with them.”
Thompson said he brought his 14-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter to the Greenwood Rising museum earlier this year.
“And I asked them to put themselves in the place of the victims. What would it feel like to be living peacefully in your neighborhood one moment and have to flee for your life the next or even worse? What would it be like to see the people you love killed in front of you?” Thompson asked his children.
Now, as attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons represents the last three living survivors of the Massacre in a lawsuit seeking justice for the century-old crime, people around the world will be able to understand the gravity of their struggle from their own homes through the new app.
“The history of Black Wall Street and the Tulsa Race Massacre has important and relevant lessons that can benefit people from around the world who are desperately searching for hope,” said Jessica Lowe-Betts, Board President for Greenwood Rising. “This partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies, the WK Kellogg Foundation, and the Boeing Foundation will bring one more piece of our vision to fruition.”
Virtual technology and history combine for unique experience in app
Kujanga “KJ” Jackson developed the virtual reality experiences found in the app. Through working on the project, he discovered he’s a descendant of Tulsa Race Massacre victims.
Born in Inglewood, Los Angeles, Jackson achieved degrees in accounting and computer science before moving to Tulsa in 2004.
Speaking with The Black Wall Street Times about the virtual reality app, Jackson explained how his family was silent about his family roots in Tulsa until he moved to the city. As he was working on the virtual reality project, he started noticing he shared a last name with many Tulsa historical figures. He started talking with older relatives, who told him the truth about his family lineage.
“My family had 200 acres here. We had a grocery store here. The Race Massacre is what drove them West. Half stopped in Oklahoma City. The other half went to California. And so I didn’t know any of that until I moved here and started working on this project,” Jackson told The Black Wall Street Times.
Now, he operates a nonprofit in the city that exposes students to new technology.
“Technology a lot of times can be a bridge. It can bridge the gap. It can open somebody’s mind up because they’re experiencing something new for the first time so they can be introduced to new concepts that maybe they never even thought about,” he said.
He hopes the Greenwood Rising digital guide will give people the opportunity to fully grasp the history of the Greenwood District and “walk into history.”
To access the free app download Bloomberg Connects in any apple or android app store and type in Greenwood Rising.