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

Metropolitan: Holt. Feb. 2021. 448p. ISBN 9781627798624. $29.99. HIST
In 1969, civil rights leader Floyd McKissick proposed developing Soul City, in rural Warren County, North Carolina. Unlike other planned communities of its time, Soul City was intended to exemplify Black economic empowerment and reverse the migration of Black people to the North. Healy (The Great Dissent) brings the saga of Soul City to life from its inception to eventual demise. First, Healy provides background on McKissick’s life and motivations for building the community. McKissick’s vision for Soul City encompassed homes, amenities, infrastructure and businesses, none of which existed on the undeveloped land. Healy chronicles McKissick’s struggle to obtain funding, his troubles with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, as well as Jesse Helms, North Carolina’s racist senator. Additionally, McKissick argued with the Raleigh News and Observer, which published a series of negative articles on the project. Despite these setbacks, McKissick obtained the support of local community members, and his vision proved attractive to potential tenants. Additionally, Healy engages with issues of race and segregation and provides insightful analysis of the project’s successes and failures. Included are occasional photographs of prominent figures involved in the development.
VERDICT An absorbing account of a visionary project that will engage readers interested in Southern history.
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