WWI Centennial Project Focuses on Black Press Stories on African Americans In the WW1 Era Using VR Technology – Your Black World

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By: Victor Ochieng

The street corner in the South Side of Chicago, has nothing extraordinary: just vehicles driving by and buildings all over. But imagine that suddenly you are taken back to 1919, in the middle of the “Red Summer” when social and racial tensions became violence just after the World War 1: there is a confrontation outside an old lunch room. This is would be a description of an old photo of a white militiaman and a black WW1 veteran. But it can also be the Chicago Race Riot of 1919, which resulted in 38 dead and more than 500 injured, plus 1000 black families left homeless.

BN writes that, “Forgotten stories like these are being made available to students nationwide through immersive storytelling technology thanks to a collaborative partnership with Google Expeditions, the Friends of the Victory Memorial and the West Virginia University Reed College of Media Innovation Center. This project, “WWI Through the Eyes of the Chicago Defender,” brings history to life through virtual reality. The VR project takes viewers on a tour of WWI-era United States as seen through the eyes of the nation’s most influential black weekly newspaper at that time. The project has been commissioned for Google Expeditions, a product that allows teachers to take their classes on virtual field trips, immersing students in experiences that bring abstract concepts to life, brings virtual objects into the classroom, and gives students a deeper understanding of the world beyond the classroom. The “WWI Through the Eyes of the Chicago Defender” expedition became a “pioneer” beta partner in 2016.”

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The expedition dubbed Through the Eyes of the Defender, enables students to follow stories with various themes from that era including, the Great Migration, Jim Crow Laws, women’s struggle for civil rights, the second rise of the KKK and the story of the 370th Infantry Regiment, which is also “formerly the “Old 8th” Illinois National Guard unit, the only entirely black combat unit during World War I commanded by black officers.”

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Joel Beeson, an associate professor at the WVU Reed College of Media and expedition producer, explained that, “For this project, we’re used new technology that really wasn’t intended for what we are doing. This technology was designed for gaming and entertainment, and we’re adapting it to engage communities that have been historically marginalized from authorship of stories.”

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Beverly Reed-Scott has hope that the appeal that comes with virtual reality technology will be enough to attract young people to the essentiality of history lessons.

Scott says, “To have your humanness questioned and maintain your dignity in the face of it, and not only do well, but excel. This is what the men of the 370th did every day that they served in the Great War. They had to fight and die in defense of this country and then come home and fight in defense of the right to be in this country.”


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