Soul City (Warren Co., NC) was established as a planned community in 1970s under the direction of civil rights leader Floyd B. McKissick. Disenchanted with the systemic suppression, poverty, and racism typical after migration to northern urban centers, he envisioned a “black owned, black built town” that offered families affordable housing, jobs, and healthcare. The project broke ground in 1973 with the help in $14 million in federal funding under the Urban Growth and New Community Development Act. The city quickly developed to include homes on spacious properties, industrial centers, paved roads, and water and sewerage systems; at its height, it was home to 200 people.
However, then-Senator Jesse Helms implemented a series of newspaper smear campaigns against the project, questioned the appropriate use of federal funds, and launched related governmental investigations. The active opposition of the state government and inadequate residential and employment achievements resulted in a complete withdrawal of federal funding in 1979. Without powerful private investors, the project could not continue as planned. McKissick’s children and several of the original residents still live in Soul City.
The documentary Soul City tells the story of the project through archival footage and interviews with residents, both past and present.
Watch the film tonight at 10 pm (EST) on UNC-TV. It can also be viewed here, through the UNC-TV site, for free until February 3rd.
In addition to the film, the story of Soul City has also been documented through oral history interviews, archival collections, and both popular and scholarly publications. Many of these resources are available online (see below).
[Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article misstated the political office held by Jesse Helms during the Soul City controversy, incorrectly identifying him as “then-Governor Jesse Helms.” Helms was serving his first term as United States Senator at the time of Soul City’s 1973 groundbreaking. We have corrected this error.]
Floyd B. McKissick’s Papers and the WTVD Videotape Collection are jointly held by North Carolina Central University and the Southern Historical Collection at UNC.
For further research:
- Guest blog post from 2015 featuring collection items at NCCU
- Finding Aid for the Floyd B. McKissick Papers, 1940s-1980s, housed at UNC
- Oral History interview with Floyd B. McKissick Sr. (December 6, 1973); part of UNC’s Documenting the American South project.
- WTVD Videotape Collection, 1976-1992 and undated finding aid, housed at UNC
- (e.g., VT-4929/006; VT-4929/183; VT-4929/259; VT-4929/260; VT-4929/392; VT-4929/521)
- Soul City North Carolina, digitized by the North Carolina Collection at UNC.
In the News:
- The Time Republicans Helped Build an All-Black Town Called ‘Soul City’ from The Atlantic
- 99 Percent Invisible, Episode 207: Soul City
- Story of cities #41: Soul City’s failed bid to build a black-run suburbia for America from The Guardian
- Meet Charmaine McKissick-Melton, from WUNC, Aug. 24, 2015
- Floyd McKissick’s obituary in the New York Times, 1991.
Minchin, Timothy J. “‘A Brand New Shining City’: Floyd B. McKissick Sr. and the Struggle to Build Soul City, North Carolina.” The North Carolina Historical Review, vol. 82, no. 2, 2005, pp. 125–155. www.jstor.org/stable/23523505.
- Fergus, D. “Black Power, Soft Power: Floyd McKissick, Soul City, and the Death of Moderate Black Republicanism.” Journal of Policy History, vol. 22 no. 2, 2010, pp. 148-192. Project MUSE, muse.jhu.edu/article/379592.
Contributed by Brenna Edwards and Merisa Tomczak, Southern Historical Collection.