Taura Musgrove grew up near the history-making and influential Mitchell family in West Baltimore, but admits she knew little about their matriarch, freedom fighter and civil rights leader Lillie May Carroll Jackson.

Musgrove doesn’t want another generation to miss out on learning about Jackson, who among other roles was the NAACP Baltimore Chapter president for more than three decades, including during the pivotal Civil Rights Movement. Jackson should be a household name, Musgrove said. And she plans to make her one through technology.

Tapping into her film school training, Hollywood connections and work at Pixar, Musgrave is creating avatars of civil rights figures, starting with Jackson.

By launching the Freedom Fighters app using AR technology, she hopes to attract a broad audience — particularly youths — in a nontraditional way in hopes they come to appreciate the late leader’s contributions.

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“I want her to be a recognized figure,” Musgrove said, adding that she wants to do the same with other Black Baltimoreans — particularly in the West Baltimore neighborhood surrounding Druid Hill Avenue that was once home to many prominent African Americans. “I want to make sure the youth of that neighborhood know what happened around them.”

People will use their smartphones at museums and other places, such as the Lillie Carroll Jackson Civil Rights Museum, to scan a marker or QR code. A web browser then presents a life-size avatar version of Jackson, or some other historic figure, in augmented reality. The avatar directs and interacts with users, prompting them with questions and offering options for exploration of the community and its history, Musgrove said.

Filmmaker Taura Musgrove uses her phone to view the augmented reality history lessons she has created about Dr. Lillie May Carroll Jackson and the Bethel A.M.E. Church, where Jackson used to host the Baltimore Young People’s Forum, on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, in Baltimore. (Wesley Lapointe/for the Baltimore Banner)

“Augmented reality is a technology that creates an interplay between virtual objects, in this case Dr. Jackson, and the real world. The goal is to empower young people by introducing them to other great historical figures using this immersive art form,” she said.

The project hasn’t been a quick process. She embarked on the journey in 2016. Then the pandemic hit, which stalled her work. And there have also been funding obstacles.

But Musgrove has not been deterred, and believes a finished product will be ready by winter. What keeps her going? Musgrove looks no further than Jackson herself.

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“I was just captivated by her story and her intellect, her spirituality, her entrepreneurship, her dedication to the Black community and other communities,” she said, adding that the late civil rights leader was instrumental in incorporating non-Black groups into the work with the NAACP.

Alexis Ojeda-Brown, the diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion specialist at the Baltimore Museum of Industry, thinks it’s “fantastic” that Musgrove is attempting to make Jackson’s story more accessible.

“This is another way of people being able to connect with her,” said Ojeda-Brown, who also worked for the Lillie Carroll Jackson Civil Rights Museum.

Jackson has not received the acclaim she deserves for a myriad of reasons, Ojeda-Brown believes.

Jackson’s face was “disfigured” after being partially paralyzed following a surgery at Johns Hopkins, which took place in a basement because of segregation. After the surgery, she mostly took side profile photographs.

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“I think because she’s a Black woman and a disfigured Black woman, she didn’t fit the mold of beauty standards. She’s fighting battles on multiple points,” she said.

Ojeda-Brown also believes that Baltimore has been ignored in conversations about the Civil Rights Movement.

“Outside of Thurgood Marshall, you aren’t thinking about Maryland even though it was pivotal to the Civil Rights Movement. People think of these wins in the movement coming out of the Deep South,” she said.

Filmmaker Taura Musgrove, right, stands with former state Senator Michael Mitchell, in front of what was once the law office of longtime Baltimore civil rights advocate Juanita Jackson Mitchell, on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, in Baltimore. Juanita Jackson Mitchell was the first Black woman both to attend the University of Maryland Law School and to practice law in Maryland, and was also the mother of the former senator. (Wesley Lapointe/for the Baltimore Banner)

Michael Bowen Mitchell, Jackson’s grandson and son of Jackson’s daughter, Juanita Jackson Mitchell, Maryland’s first practicing Black woman lawyer, recalls his grandmother being “a rock.”

Mitchell remembers feeling empowered because of his family despite growing up in segregated Baltimore, where he couldn’t swim in public pools, play in public parks and eat at the same restaurants as white people. Mitchell came to realize the importance of his family’s work — regularly meeting iconic Black figures such as Jackie Robinson, Rosa Parks and Wilma Rudolph in his family’s home. He attributes this exposure to the work of his grandmother.

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Mitchell, a former state senator, has continued to keep her legacy alive through the museum, which he helped launch in 2016. He wants to further Musgrove’s work and create more avatars of his family members, including his father, Clarence M. Mitchell, Jr., a civil rights activist who was one of Lyndon Johnson’s chief advisers; his uncle, Parren Mitchell, the first African American elected to Congress from Maryland; and his brother, Clarence M. Mitchell, III, who was also a state senator.

“Hopefully, with her work, we can broaden the audience who can appreciate this around the world. … What she has done is genius. This is the wave of the future,” he said about Musgrove.

Musgrove said she was inspired to do the augmented reality project after working on the marketing, publicity, and in-house team at Pixar Animation Studios.

There, Musgrove heard Shari Frilot, chief curator for the Sundance Film Festival, deliver a speech about augmented reality and the work Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation was doing with Holocaust survivors. Musgrove wanted to do something similar with civil rights leaders.

When Musgrove applied to the Maryland Institute College of Art/Johns Hopkins film and media program, where she received her master’s degree, she had Jackson in mind as its subject.

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Actor Delroy Lindo, who Musgrove worked for as an assistant for five years, was also a source of inspiration — particularly his ability to navigate Hollywood while fighting for accurate, positive Black representation.

Lindo’s wife, Nashormeh Lindo, was a friend of Musgrove’s mother back in Baltimore where Lindo worked at the Baltimore Museum of Art as coordinator of community services.

Musgrove reunited with the Lindos in the Bay area when Musgrove lived there while working as a high school administrator. In fact, Musgrove even helped to launch and name the Oakland School for The Arts, which she based on the Baltimore School for the Arts.

Filmmaker Taura Musgrove stands in front of the Bethel A.M.E. Church, where Lillie May Carroll Jackson used to host the Baltimore Young People’s Forum, on Wednesday, February 21, 2024, in Baltimore. (Wesley Lapointe/for the Baltimore Banner)

Jason Gray, a lecturer and adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University’s Advanced Academic Programs for Immersive Storytelling and Emerging Technology, was part of the master’s program cohort with Musgrove.

“One of the hardest things is finding the newest technology to fit with the research. She understands how to work with the puzzle to come up with a solution,” Gray said.