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Dreaming Of A Black People Town: Soul City

by Drishti Ranjan
Dreaming Of A Black People Town: Soul City

March 2, 2021

A man decided court demonstrations were not enough to fight racial discrimination. He wished to build a town where the economic power would lie in Black people's hands. He got grants worth $ 86 million from the government, but something didn't fit right. Soul City never took off.

In the year 1969, Activist Floyd McKissick set on an ordeal to do the impossible. He wanted to uplift Black people and empower them by creating a new city for this purpose. This city was to be open to all but was mainly supposed to be a hub for giving economic empowerment to Black people.

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Activist Floyd McKissick wanted to uplift Black people so he presented the design of Soul city.

McKissik and his struggle for Black Power

A seal-proclaimed realist, McKissick sought to establish Soul City on 5,000 acres of farmland in North Carolina, which was one of the poorest states in the country. Then, it had no water, no paved roads, no electrical grid, and not even a proper sewer system. Yet, McKissick was confident that with enough hard work and co-operation, they could achieve the utopian dream of making soul city a hub of black empowerment. 

McKissick was a lawyer by profession, and had witnessed a long career in civil rights before launching his Soul City project. Over a period of time, through his work against fighting racial discrimination, he had realised that court cases and demonstrations could only help them up to a certain extent.

After having led organisations that worked towards the Black Power movement. “He was determined to build a new kind of city, one that would avoid the mistakes of the past and serve as a model for the future.” A World War II veteran, McKissick had witnessed French city planners rebuild their towns after they’d been shellacked by mortar shells. In 1968, it struck him that he could use this experience for planning a new town of his own: Soul City.

Mckissek's dream of a Black Town

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Floyd's plan was to built a city only for Black people in his native state North carolina.

His plan was to build a city from scratch in the Piedmont region of his native state North Carolina. Here, he envisioned a way of life that would primarily give economic power in the hands of Black people. Although this space was open to all, it was meant for the financial benefit of the Black community only.

Grants were taken by the Department of Housing and Urban Development Banks to build the city. In the process, McKissick even got help from the Presidential candidate Richard Nixon, who shared his vision of Black Capitalism. It translated to the thought it is imperative to empower black people, make them financially independent and self-reliant entrepreneurs.

However, it seems as though McKissick struck a Faustian bargain. In return for switching political alliances and becoming the country’s most prominent black republican to get grants from the federal government, it cost him his dream.

Why did nobody inhabit Soul City

Soul City received a major loan guarantee from the federal government, the equivalent of over $86 million today. With time, the brand-new community had roads, houses, a health care centre, and an industrial plant. By the year 2000, projections said, Soul City would have 50,000 residents.

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Soul city got the loan and the project was started but it was not enough to attract the people to move there.

Even though Soul City secured massive federal funding and even had infrastructural development, it wasn’t enough to attract people. People weren’t willing to uproot their lives and move there; it seemed. Consequently, industries and companies refused to migrate offices there, owing to the lack of skilled labour, and the loop continued.

As time passed, it became increasingly apparent that Soul City was an extremely audacious and utopian dream to have. Media Houses, bureaucrats and other critics started attacking the project and questioning why tax payer’s funds were being wasted in such a manner. There were even charges of corruption and fraud against McKissick, but they were all cleared later by a congressional audit.

A complete shut down of Soul City

When the senator in North Carolina changed, he swore to block all government funding towards Soul City. Following this, Soul City went bankrupt in 1979. McKissick gave this project his all, but still, be it owing to politics, white liberalism or the bureaucratic shambles, his dream was shattered.

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Soul city went bankrupt in 1979, and Floyd died and was buried there.

For people and the world, it may be a forgotten gig, but for McKissick, it was his biggest failure. 10 years after the project was closed, McKissick died and was buried in Soul City. Today, it is a ghost town—and its industrial plant, erected to promote black economic freedom, has been converted into a prison.

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