Imagine a time machine that could take you back to Brooklyn, the historic Black community that once thrived in the heart today’s uptown Charlotte.
You could see streets and buildings as they were back then, learn of places long since gone, and hear the voices of people who lived, worked and played there.
It’s not exactly a time machine, but a new app developed by the Levine Museum of the New South and Johnson C. Smith University comes close.
With KnowCLT, anyone with an iPhone or Android device can take a digital tour of historic Brooklyn, a community that, in its heyday, was a “thriving black business center,” according to the UNC Charlotte online library.
Color Your Perspective
Brooklyn was razed in the 1960s as part of the city’s urban renewal strategy, its residents, shops and churches scattered to disparate parts of Charlotte-Mecklenburg.
With the GPS-based app, users can walk to seven blue markers within the area where Brooklyn once stood. At each stop, the app tells the story of that location using narration, historic photos, poetry, augmented reality, and the voices of former residents. (The app works from anywhere, so you don’t have to take the walking tour.)
The Museum will make the app available for download starting Saturday. The first 100 people to visit the museum and show the downloaded app on their phones will receive gift bags for use on the walking tour.
Stops on the tour include the sites of the former Brevard Street Library and Second Ward High School. People using the app can hold up their phones and see the locations just as they were.
KnowCLT expands upon the museum’s current exhibit “Brooklyn: Once a City Within a City.” Other historic parts of the city will be added as the app expands, according to a museum statement.
Eric Scott, director of exhibits and digital experiences at the Levine museum, said the Brooklyn exhibit is important for its historic value.
“We believe that the story of Brooklyn can shed a light on how we got to where we are,” he said. “That became the reason behind doing the exhibit…allowing people to have the access to stories that have built this city and made Charlotte what it is today.”
Plans for the app began to crystalize in March, when JCSU announced that its library had received grants to virtually rebuild some of Charlotte’s historic Black neighborhoods, Brooklyn among them. The Levine Museum was one of the university’s partners in the project.
Willie Griffin, staff historian at the Levine Museum, said the app is a “natural progression” of the work the museum was already doing to spotlight Brooklyn’s history.
“We have always seen ourselves as a cutting-edge museum, and we’re just trying to remain relevant,” he said. “With this digital age, we can really take advantage and recreate what was once there.”
The museum, which is selling its building to focus on a digital-first strategy, has a long history of creating pop-up exhibits, dating back to 1991, Griffin said.
“City leaders and folks involved with the museum wanted people to know what Charlotte was about, and that’s when we started this idea of being a museum without walls,” he said.
Scott, the director of exhibits and digital experiences, said the museum’s ability to create virtual experiences like the app and Brooklyn exhibit has allowed the museum to set itself apart from its competitors.
“We’re hoping that by being present throughout the city that we’re able to serve the community better,” he said.
Griffin said the museum’s ultimate mission is to recount Brooklyn’s history and give voice to the memories of former residents and community members.
“We wanted to find a way to help participate in that conversation and use history to help guide the discussions,” he said.