by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Ray Nothstine explores for the Law and Liberty website a recent history of the troubled N.C. experiment known as Soul City.
Soul City, North Carolina, is the mostly forgotten dream of American civil rights leader Floyd McKissick (1922-1991). McKissick dared to create something big—an American city from scratch in Warren County’s rural Piedmont region of the state. Hinted at by its very name, Soul City was supposed to be an oasis of freedom for Black Americans—solving the problems of racism, poverty, and urban decay.
Thomas Healy, a law professor at Seton Hall, tells the story of what eventually happened to the dream in Soul City: Race, Equality, and the Lost Dream of an American Utopia.
Few North Carolinians and fewer Americans know anything about this land once christened as a new beginning for Black America. McKissick’s grand vision, which garnered attention from major media outlets and a Republican president, now seems like a footnote from the 1970s. Yet Soul City’s legacy offers essential lessons. Political debates over central planning, urban decay, victim culture, resegregation, and conservative outreach to black Americans, to name a few, are more relevant than ever. …
… McKissick’s gut instinct was that relying on federal government financing for Soul City could prove disastrous. It did, but McKissick defied the odds repeatedly to launch his city through hard work and sweat equity. Ultimately, he had no choice but to accept federal support. While he had the advantage of early private financing, no bank or lender was willing to back an entire city that he estimated at around $30 million. Healy offers up an ominous line: “If he wanted to build Soul City, he would have to depend on the very thing he was trying to get away from: the beneficence of the federal government.” …
… Nixon and McKissick used each other to get what they wanted out of their newfound relationship. Still, McKissick didn’t see much promise in tying himself to the Democratic Party. He shrugged off the sellout label, seeing no future in handouts or the kind of dependency so prevalent in urban slums that stripped black Americans of human dignity and a better future.