Death of a dream in Warren County

[Floyd] McKissick’s team was never able to lure major industry to Soul City, but two industries did end up landing there after McKissick left. One was hazardous waste: Warren County notoriously became the place where North Carolina decided to dump tons of untreated, PCB-tainted soil in a landfill near Soul City. Black residents protested this conversion of their homeland into dumping grounds, many of them lying in front of the trucks delivering the soil. Their resistance marked the birth of the civil-rights-based environmental justice movement, though these groups weren’t able to stop toxic soil waste from infiltrating the earth around Soul City.

“The other industry that ended up there: prison. The ‘Soul Tech I’ business incubator McKissick built was sold off and is now the Warren Correctional Institution, an 809-bed facility housing far more people than McKissick was ever able to recruit to Soul City….”

— From “The Time Republicans Helped Build an All-Black Town Called ‘Soul City'” by Brentin Mock at CityLab (Nov. 6)

h/t Mary Newsom


Apartheid amendment fails to catch on

On this day in 1915: The N.C. Senate rejects Clarence Poe’s plan for a “Great Rural Civilization.”

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.