Thomas Healy

Biography

Fall 2016: Sheila Biddle Ford Foundation Fellow

Soul City: Race, Equality, and the Lost Dream of an American Utopia

Project Description

Soul City: Race, Equality, and the Lost Dream of an American Utopia

I am writing a book about Soul City, N.C., an experimental community founded by civil rights leader Floyd McKissick in 1969.  Located on a former slave plantation near the border of Virginia, Soul City was designed to ease overcrowding in the ghettos of the north and serve as a model of black economic empowerment.  Although supported by the Nixon Administration, the city ran into opposition from conservatives such as Jesse Helms who viewed it as a form of liberal welfarism.  It was also attacked by liberals who saw it as a separatist venture that would undermine the move toward integration.  Caught between these two forces and hindered by a weak economy, Soul City struggled to get off the ground and was eventually shut down in 1979.  Today, it is largely deserted.  Most of the original residents have left, the buildings are vacant, the streets are cracked and crumbling, and the industrial plant that was supposed to pave the way to black economic freedom has been converted into a prison.  My book will tell the story of Soul City’s rise and fall, chronicling the experience of the pioneers who attempted to build it and exploring the political, social, and economic factors that led to its demise.  I will also consider what Soul City’s failure tells us about the continuing struggle to provide economic opportunity for black Americans and the consequences of our failure to do so, as demonstrated by recent events in Ferguson and Baltimore.

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