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

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

Thomas Healy. Metropolitan, $29.99 (448p) ISBN 978-1-62779-862-4

An attempt to build an American city “where Blacks would call the shots” foundered on bureaucracy, economic headwinds, and racial antagonism, according to this wistful and well-documented history. Seton Hall law professor Healy (The Great Dissent) recounts the story of Soul City, a community intended by its founder, civil rights activist Floyd McKissick, as a showcase for Black economic and political empowerment. Construction started in 1972 on 5,000 acres in rural North Carolina, but the project fizzled after losing its loan guarantees from the Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1979, leaving behind a subdivision, inhabited to this day, and an abandoned factory where prison inmates now make soap. Healy paints Soul City as a mix of idealistic urbanism, muted Black separatism, and transactional politics (McKissick switched parties from Democrat to Republican and endorsed President Richard Nixon’s 1972 reelection campaign in order to get federal backing). Healy emphasizes how racial prejudice contributed to Soul City’s demise, but also notes the flaw in McKissick’s strategy of basing the town’s economy on manufacturing in an era of stagflation and deindustrialization. Full of incisive character sketches and thought-provoking insights into the politics of Black empowerment, this is a worthy elegy for what might have been. Photos. (Feb.)