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How the Collapse of 'Soul City' Fired Up the Environmental Justice Movement

An experiment in black urban planning revealed major racial disparities where toxic waste dumping sites were located—and sparked change.
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Soul City Film

The Soul City experiment initiated by civil rights leader Floyd McKissick in the 1970s to right racial urban ills ended in disappointment. It did not become the “spearhead of racial equality” that McKissick envisioned. Nor did it flower into a bouquet of black businesses to form a new southern economic engine, as he had hoped. Instead, Soul City’s goals were diminished by a relentless attack from journalists and conservatives criticizing McKissick’s motives, and a damning economic depression that decade that further suffocated the project.

It wasn’t a complete wash, though. Some saw it as a solid display of African-American driven urban planning, even if those plans didn’t pan out. Of the small population of people Soul City was able to draw, some still live there today (as did McKissick until his death in 1991, and as some of his family members still do). Filmmakers spoke with some of Soul City’s survivors for an upcoming documentary and found there is still some keeping of the flame in the town’s small corridors.