Letter writer: The rise and fall of the Soul City vision

Graphic by Lori Deaton

Your article “Soul City Blues: An Asheville Native’s Failed Utopian Dream” [June 22, Xpress] brought back memories of the dreams of Floyd McKissick. I met Floyd in Harlem while working on my master’s thesis on Soul City at Pratt Institute.

Floyd told me that he, Sam Jackson and Theseus T. Clayton Sr. (Eva Clayton’s husband) came out of World War II with the desire to work together on a project that would benefit black Americans.

In 1969, Floyd was in living in New York City, and Mr. Clayton, a Warren County attorney, was in North Carolina. Samuel Jackson was assistant secretary of housing and urban development.

Mr. Clayton knew of a large tract of land up for sale, and so the designation of Soul City was given to a Department of Housing and Urban Development Title VII New Town application.

At that time, 701 Comprehensive Planning grants were the main HUD program in the U.S., and Title VII New Towns had just been developed. A number of development sites in the New Town VII programs had been given development loans with government-backed securities.

The federal government gave a planning grant to Soul City to plan a New Town for 50,000 people on 5,000 acres. The Warren County Planning Commission received the planning grant, mainly for salaries for the seven staff members for one year only.

After the planning grant was awarded — but before Soul City became eligible for loans with the government standing behind these development loans — Floyd was pressured by the Nixon White House to change party affiliation from Democratic to Republican. Floyd did this after negotiations, and the project was approved for $14 million in bank loans backed by the federal government. However, the project went forward over the objections of then-Gov. Bob Scott — and without the support of the governor, the second round of planning funding was never obtained.

After Gerald Ford became president, a General Accounting Office review of the Title VII program showed lots of red ink for the startup of these development projects. HUD officials terminated the New Towns program. Soul City was one of seven programs ended.

While McKissick’s dream was never realized, we owe him a debt for the water system for the county, which is still in use today.

— Robert Eidus

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