by Thomas Healy
In 1969, with America's inner cities in turmoil and racial tensions high, civil rights leader Floyd McKissick announced an audacious plan: he would build a new city in rural North Carolina, open to all races but intended primarily to benefit Black people. The idea attracted planning help from places like Harvard and MIT, interest from companies such as GM, and a loan guarantee from the federal government worth $86 million today. Soon, the brand-new community had roads, houses, a health care center, and an industrial plant. By the year 2000, projections said, Soul City would have 50,000 residents.
But the utopian vision was not to be. The virulently racist Jesse Helms, newly elected as senator from North Carolina, swore to block any further government spending on the project. At the same time, the liberal Raleigh News & Observer, on the lookout for government malfeasance, ran a series of articles mistakenly claiming fraud and corruption in the construction effort. Battered from the left and the right, Soul City went bankrupt in 1979. Today, it is a ghost town -- and its industrial plant, erected to promote Black economic freedom, has been converted into a prison.
In a brilliantly vivid, gripping narrative, acclaimed author Thomas Healy resurrects this forgotten saga of race, capitalism, and the struggle for equality. Was it an impossible, misbegotten dream from the beginning? Or a brilliant idea thwarted by prejudice and bad timing? And how differently might history have turned out if Soul City had been allowed to succeed?
"The Soul City project was a fascinating one, and Healy does a wonderful job explaining how and why it ultimately failed. The book is meticulously researched, and Healy expertly provides ample context; he paints an excellent, and accurate, picture of America in the 1970s, a country still in denial about the racism that was poisoning the nation to its core. He also manages to craft a deft, readable narrative out of the ups and downs of the project." -- NPR
"Thomas Healy tells a gripping, revealing, and ultimately tragic story of Black dreams of freedom derailed by false promises of capitalism and conservative white allies. One need not share Floyd McKissick's faith that a Black utopia could be underwritten by corporate power to feel his pain, as the dream of Soul City -- and all the hope it represented -- unravels before his eyes." -- Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow
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