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Remembering Soul City, A Mecca For Black Economic Empowerment That Was Destroyed By Liberals

Remembering Soul City, A Mecca For Black Economic Empowerment That Was Destroyed By Liberals

Soul City

Floyd B. McKissick, 43-year-old North Carolina attorney seen in this Jan. 3, 1966 photo, will succeed James Farmer as National Director of CORE. (AP Photo)

Soul City was supposed to be the mecca of Black capitalism, where Black Americans could feel safe and thrive. Instead, some historians say it is ultimately white liberals’ fault the dream died.

If you’ve never heard of Soul City, you are not alone. The story is not widely told in American history. In a new book titled “Soul City: Race, Equality, and the Lost Dream of an American Utopia,” law professor Thomas Healy chronicles the story of the failed, would-be Black utopia.

In 1969, after Black capitalism became a buzzphrase, a Black attorney and activist named Floyd McKissick attempted to turn 5,000 acres of rural land in Warren County, an hour’s drive north of Raleigh, North Carolina, into Soul City.

McKissick had risen through the ranks to become the national director of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), which pioneered the use of nonviolent direct action in the U.S. civil rights struggle. McKissick believed the best way to help Black people was to help them make money, according to a report by The New Yorker.

“Unless the Black Man attains economic independence, any ‘political independence’ will be an illusion,” McKissick wrote. After the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr., McKissick engaged with Stokely Carmichael and left CORE, believing the non-violent approach was a “dead philosophy.” He founded McKissick Enterprises.

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It was through the organization that McKissick attempted to build Soul City – which he envisioned as “a place where Black people can come, and know they’re wanted.” He secured the 5,000 acres with a loan from Chase Bank for half the land’s $390,000 purchase price, which he used as a down payment.

However, he experienced an uphill battle securing funding from the government until he switched parties from Democrat to Republican and became a surrogate of President Richard Nixon, The New Yorker reported.

Even after securing millions in funding, McKissick’s vision for Soul City was sabotaged by racist lawmakers and white liberals who felt the town was the epitome of Black separatism, Bloomberg reported.

“It is a story not just about white prejudice but about white power, about the control of white society over the lives of Black people,” Healy wrote in the book.

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Healy spoke with Bloomberg about the role white liberals played in the demise of the dream of Soul City.

“The other part of the story is how much opposition he faced from white liberals,” Healy said. “He went to Ted Kennedy for support early on and Kennedy was on board. McKissick knew the Kennedys well and he considered them friends. Ted Kennedy said, ‘Go talk to my cousin, who’s a banker at a Boston bank and I’ll tell them about you.’

“When McKissick got there, the banker had no idea and said, ‘I never heard about it,’ and the conversation ended shortly thereafter. The same with Nelson Rockefeller who was a liberal Republican. McKissick went to him, but he didn’t get anywhere with Rockefeller,” Healy continued.

White liberals who thought Soul City was a Black separatist movement were wrong, Healy said.

“McKissick had no desire to exclude whites from Soul City. A quarter of his staff was white. His best friend at the time was white. So, the other part of the story is the opposition he faced from white liberals who were integrationists, but could only see integration in one direction,” Healy said.

He also noted the irony that in trying to create a town that could help generate independent Black wealth, McKissick had to rely on white institutions.

“The Catch-22 here was that the only way to become economically independent and to generate that wealth accumulation was to rely on the very white institutions that you were trying to break free from,” Healy said.

“The money had to come from somewhere, and there wasn’t that much money within the Black community at the time. There wasn’t even a Black-owned corporation on the Fortune list,” Healy continued. “So if you were going to accumulate wealth and give African Americans a share of capital, you had to go first to all those white institutions: to the white bank, the white-controlled government and white media organizations, and he had to win their support.” 

Ultimately, Healy said white liberals didn’t get on board with Soul City because it didn’t align with their brand of equality,

“McKissick wanted autonomy and he wanted Black people to have control over their own economic destiny. The problem is that white institutions were only willing to do that if it looked like how they thought equality should look,” Healy said.

PHOTO: Floyd B. McKissick, 43-year-old North Carolina attorney, is named National Director of CORE, succeeding James Farmer, Jan. 3, 1966. Location of photo is unknown. (AP Photo)