Fearing that the migration of young people into the already crowded cities was undermining society, Poe — the influential editor of the Progressive Farmer — drafted a plan that strangely foreshadowed Floyd McKissick’s ill-fated Soul City experiment of the 1970s.
While visiting the British Isles in 1912, Poe had interviewed a white South African, who persuaded him that apartheid offered whites the best opportunity to help blacks.
Framed as an amendment to the state constitution, Poe’s plan empowered voters in a rural district to prohibit land sales to persons of the minority race. Although this provision would not force anyone to leave, Poe believed that ultimately the countryside would be dotted with quiet, pastoral villages, either all-white or all-black.
Although Poe enlisted such influential allies as Josiah Bailey, later a U.S. senator, and Julian Carr, the Bull Durham magnate, his plan stirred hornets’ nests of protest across the South.
After the 1915 General Assembly, more concerned with the World War raging in Europe, votes down the proposed amendment, the “Great Rural Civilization” will not be heard of again.