Black civil rights leader Floyd B. McKissick worked to build the city on the rural North Carolina site of an antebellum slave-operated plantation. The project limped along until the late 1970s, when it was torpedoed by racist Senator Jesse Helms.
McKissick is largely forgotten by civil rights historians today, perhaps because he was economically conservative, and allied himself with the Republican Party and President Nixon.
In the late 1960s, a civil rights leader named Floyd B. McKissick, at one time the head of CORE (the Congress on Racial Equality) proposed an idea for a new town. He would call this town Soul City and it would be a place built for and by black people—a land of black opportunity in rural North Carolina. McKissick imagined that Soul City would attract black families wanting to get out of northern ghettos. McKissick’s new city would offer blacks a thriving community with robust employment opportunities.
It just so happened that McKissick’s idea lined up with some national momentum on new-town building. In the 1960s, the country was in the midst of a so-called “urban crisis.” Traffic, pollution and crime were up in cities across the country. White people were fleeing urban centers for the suburbs (thanks to federal help with mortgages and new freeway development), in a process would come to be known as white flight.
Meanwhile, urban black populations unable to leave, were dealing with housing discrimination and police brutality. Riots were breaking out in cities all over the country.