Written by Dr. Tina L. Ligon, Archivist at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland
As a part of the Great Society, President Lyndon B. Johnson created the model cities program in 1966. This program provided federal funding to community leaders in urban areas with the intent on developing affordable housing, establishing alternative forms of municipal government, and creating antipoverty programs. Some of the areas that were selected to establish model cities were Detroit, Michigan; Oakland, California; Newark and Camden, New Jersey; Smithville, Tennessee; and Chicago, Illinois. The model cities program ended in the mid-1970s, due to conservative backlash from urban protest that occurred in the late 1960s and widespread accusations of mismanagement of government funds.
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 was designed to be the residence for 50,000 people of all races and the home to businesses that would provide employment. McKissick planned for Soul City to have schools, factories, medical facilities, a man-made lake, and retail shopping by the 21st century.
The series Program Records Relating to Soul City, 1974–1979 (NAID 12584354) contains contracts, newspaper clippings, and photographs on the Soul City project. The bulk of the series consists of letters dealing with the progress of the Soul City project. Although the letters focus on the later years of the project, they give some insight into the challenges and misconceptions of building of Soul City. The following letter is 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:
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. Many felt that taxpayers’ money should not be wasted on the project. 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 and people chose not to relocate to Soul City. Below is a letter from North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms to Harris (July 13, 1979) about concerns over HUD’s involvement with Soul City:
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 a couple of buildings. The following is from McKissick to Harris (July 6, 1979) detailing his accomplishments towards Soul City: