Monday 2 May 2016

Soul City

Floyd Bixler McKissick (1922-1991) was the first black student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Law School, a core leader of the Congress of Racial Equality and the founder of Soul City where he lived until his death (via).

Floyd McKissick's idea was to build a city for African Americans, steered by black interests and funded by the federal government (via); McKissick was the first black American to develop a new city with federal funding (via). He believed in "a strategy built squarely on capitalism to counter the entrenched racism that fueled urban neglect and the destitute conditions of black neighborhoods", a city in which black Americans would not be subjected to racism, where they could determine both economic and political destinies. After President Lyndon B. Johnson's lip service, Nixon, in fact, did finance McKissick's project ... McKissick had switched parties in the late 1960s to support Nixon (via).
“The roots of the urban crisis are in the migratory pattern of rural people seeking to leave areas of economic and racial oppression. … So in building a new city in a rural area, we help to solve this.”
Floyd McKissick

And so McKissick started developing a city in Warren County, North Carolina, in a region that at that time was growing poorer as residents were fleeing the South (via). McKissick installed Soul City in a county where more than 60% of the population were black Americans but virtually all elected officials were white, where the Ku Klux Klan was clearly present. Soul City managed to build the region's first real water system, a health clinic, new sewage infrastructure in one of the poorest counties in the state (median income in 1960: $1.958,- in Warren County vs $6.691,- nation's average) (via).
"Given the for blacks, by blacks mission of Soul City, the public investment served essentially as reparations, or at least a security deposit for reparations. The political landscape of the time—sullen from the assassinations of King and Robert F. Kennedy—was more sympathetic to racial causes and conducive to making amends." (via)

Soul City did not become the "spearhead of racial equality", no "new southern economic engine" once hoped and envisioned (via). In 1979 the city had a population of less than 150 instead of 2.000, big companies that had considered building operations centres in Soul City pulled out, controversy around the separatist approach, the oil and energy crisis, hard-right conservatives, and North Carolina's decision to dump tons of toxic soil waste in Warren County made it difficult for the city to develop. McKissick finally sold Soul City off to private interests; including the "Soul Tech I" business that is today the Warren Correctional Institution with 809 beds ... "housing far more people than McKissick was ever able to recruit to Soul City" (via).
"Facing a hostile political environment and hampered by a foreboding economic climate, Floyd McKissick’s bold attempt to sustain a free-standing new town based on African American activism seemed doomed from the start. The uneasy marriage between black capitalism and the federal bureaucracy sundered at Soul City, a part of the larger failure of the new towns movement to solve the urban crisis of the late twentieth century." Roger Biles
Despite everything, Warren County benefitted very much from the infrastructure funding McKissick had raised and the city became a "solid display of African-American driven urban planning" with some people still living there - people for whom Soul City was and is their everything, people who are proud to be part of it as a part of the city's legacy (via).

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
photographs via and via and via