urban leaders

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As a part of his Great Society program, President Lyndon B. Johnson created the model cities program in 1966. This program provided federal funding to community leaders in urban areas to develop affordable housing, establish alternative forms of municipal government, and create antipoverty programs

Civil rights activist Floyd B. McKissick was the driving force behind the Soul City project, which was to be built in Warren County, North Carolina. This model city would have 50,000 residents of all races and businesses that would provide jobs for them. Soul City would have schools, factories, medical facilities, a man-made lake, and retail shopping by the 21st century.

But McKissick’s vision never came to fruition. Soul City’s fate was that of the model cities program, which ended in the mid-1970s, due to conservative backlash and widespread accusations of mismanagement of government funds.

In 1975, the Raleigh News & Observer wrote an article criticizing McKissick’s motives and accused him of corruption, nepotism, and mismanagement of government funds. Several members of Congress, including Senator Jesse Helms, political leaders in North Carolina, and citizens from across the country expressed concerned over the progress of Soul City.

The article prompted a Federal investigation into the Soul City project. Even though the investigation found no wrong doing, businesses refused to invest in the project.

Despite the continuing efforts of Floyd McKissick and his supporters, Soul City failed. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) withdrew its funding in 1979, due to the lack of progress in creating Soul City.

Despite the government foreclosure, McKissick continued to work towards his vision of a black utopia. Today, there are a few hundred people living in Soul City and some buildings.

Text and images from our blog “Rediscovering Black History.” To see more documents about the challenges and misconceptions of building of Soul City, go to http://go.usa.gov/eza5

Image: Floyd B. McKissick (left) and Kimp Talley stand in front of huge 20-foot-high, steel-and-concrete sculpture at the entrance to Soul City at the intersection of U.S. Highway 1 and Soul City Blvd. (National Archives Identifier 12584354)

Document: Letter from Mrs. Richard S. Bear to Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Patricia Roberts Harris (June 14, 1979) showing support for McKissick and Soul City.