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The antiracist town in the American South, explained

Soul City was meant to be a Black-led utopia.

Ranjani Chakraborty is a lead video producer on the Vox video team and the creator behind Vox’s history series, Missing Chapter.

In the 1960s, Floyd B. McKissick, a prolific civil rights activist, embarked on an ambitious idea: What if Black Americans could build and lead their own city? A place centered on the idea of racial equality and economic power, where everyone, especially people of color and the poor, could thrive? That idea turned into Soul City, North Carolina: the Black-led capitalist utopia that almost came to be.

At the time, the federal government was encouraging the idea of new cities. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development opened up a process to finance new towns built by private developers. McKissick took the opportunity to pitch his idea and hoped to secure federal funding to finally make his dream a reality. But to do it, he also made an unlikely ally: Republican President Richard Nixon. By 1972, Soul City was approved for funding, and McKissick broke ground on hundreds of acres of former tobacco plantation land in Warren County, North Carolina.

Designs were drafted. Land was cleared. An electrical grid and water system were constructed. Infrastructure was built, like roads, a public pool, a health clinic, and a massive industrial building called “Soul Tech One,” meant to be a manufacturing hub. But within just seven years of breaking ground, McKissick’s dream of Soul City was cut short. In the piece above, we explore what happened to this experimental town. With the help of McKissick’s son, former Sen. Floyd B. McKissick Jr., and one of Soul City’s first residents, Jane Ball-Groom, we look at what got built, what remains today, and the forces that came together to cause its end.

You can find this video and the entire library of Vox’s videos on YouTube.