When we think of the Black Power movement and its legacies, with all the imagery, aesthetics, and history, both real and imagined, we tend to throw a whole lot of disparate ideologies and methodologies into easily definable basic mantras. And though that might make it easier to sell tee shirts and baseball caps, it was a much more complicated and decades-long struggle, one that splintered off down different paths to achievement than can hardly be captured by simply yelling fight the power or the ever popular fuck the police. Even those who at one time might have marched hand in hand with Dr. King eventually sought very different avenues towards the true freedom still very much out of their grasp. It's the same today, as with every fight for social, political, and economic justice, there will always be those who want to destroy the unjust system and those who want to facilitate change by using the system itself. Ask any two people on the street what the Black Lives Matter movement is trying to achieve and you will get at least two different answers. And the same goes for income inequality, the healthcare debate, and just about anything someone with a smartphone and a Twitter app deems worthy to start arguing about. And so with the curious case of civil rights pioneer Floyd B. McKissick, we saw this conundrum play out in his own dreams of a true black utopian future, and not in some mythological woodsy commune, but deep in the heart of the begrudgingly desegregating rural American South he had once called home.
As Carolyn M. Brown writes in her new piece, “The meaning of Black Power, because of its association with various ideologies including black nationalism and black separatism, has gotten lost in translation. Just like the knee jerk reaction to Black Lives Matter (and the silent Too) is All Lives Matter or Blue Lives Matter, it dismisses the origin of this rally cry and disregards grassroots organizers’ campaigns against police brutality and systematic racism. Black Power is a slogan and philosophy of African Americans achieving self-determination—a community of people creating its own development. At its very core, Black Power was about putting power in black people’s hands. At least that’s how Floyd B. McKissick saw it when he dreamed of creating a thriving utopian city for African American families and black-owned businesses in the heart of rural North Carolina. And his dream for this Soul City nearly came to fruition in the 1970s with the aid of an unlikely ally—President Richard Milhous Nixon and a Republican administration that financially backed the town’s initial construction."
The promise of Soul City is a tale as old as time about racism, party politics, and urban development. It offers lessons on various fronts, including a failed attempt at using targeted federal funding deployed to address problems that are social and racial in nature; another lesson in trying to navigate a divisive political landmine centering around race relations. Soul City’s development was beset with problems that still plague America some 50 years since McKissick first established its framework. “Soul City represented hope and change," Floyd B. McKissick Jr. says of his father’s vision. “Instead of relocating up North, African Americans would find affordable housing and gainful employment here in the South, in Soul City.” He also wanted African Americans facing racial oppression in urban ghettos up North to move back down South to live in his dream city.
The broader Civil Rights movement fragmented in the wake of the assassination of MLK on April 4, 1968, with riots erupting in major cities across the nation. By the late '60s, both CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) and SNCC (Student Nonviolence Coordinating Committee) had become disillusioned with the slow rate of progress associated with nonviolence and turned to the growing revolutionary Black Power movement, most exemplified by Huey Newton, the Black Panthers, and their armed struggle against police brutality. But the Black Power movement overall emphasized black pride, political power and economic clout no matter how great the expanse was between methodologies. It was the revolutionary idea of black people acquiring real political power (i.e. by holding political office). McKissick pushed for increased African-American control over communities, governments, finances, and schools. In 1968, McKissick resigned from his position as the leader of CORE intent on breaking ground on his utopian city. He left the established trappings of his upper middle class lifestyle, moving out of Harlem and into a mobile home in Soul City. He established Floyd B. McKissick Enterprises and The Soul City Company. Other activists, like Jane Ball Groom, also relocated from New York City to Soul City, becoming an administrative assistant for McKissick. “We wanted to be part of building something new.” Read More Here
In those early years, many Soul City residents displayed Black Pride by sporting Afros with hair picks in them, raising up their fists, and wearing clothes that bore the Black Liberation Flag colors—red, black and green. Some residents were college students who were Quakers. Others were part of counterculture youth movements of the 60s—hippies, flower children—who favored communal living. But McKissick was no hippie—he understood that sometimes in order to achieve power, one must work strategically with those already in said positions of power, specifically political ones. And he found that partner in Richard Nixon. A Republican president who was not typically known for championing economic equality, Nixon initiated the age of black capitalism, which was building wealth through the ownership and development of businesses. Nixon sought to expand economic opportunities for African Americans through job assistance and entrepreneurship. Critics argue that Nixon’s promotion of the concept of black capitalism really was his attempt to subvert the Black Power movement and radical African American organizations, such as the Black Panther Party. But ironically, Nixon’s support of Soul City fed into that part of the Black Power platform which he enthusiastically embraced—voluntary segregation, self-reliance, and private enterprise. Whatever Nixon’s true intent around fostering black capitalism, McKissick leveraged his tactical relationship with the Republican president to help ensure that Soul City would receive HUD funding.
But as not all stories have happy endings, the Watergate scandal forced Nixon to resign and Gerald Ford, the new GOP president, did not embrace the “black capitalism” and economic development concept in the same way as his predecessor. While it was not the saving grace of black communities eradicating poverty and ending racial disparity in the nation’s inner cities, Nixon’s bent towards black capitalism paved the way for two-thirds of the 100 largest black enterprises having been started during his administration. Soul City’s shortcomings are part of a longstanding debate over black economic empowerment and black capitalism as the pathway to black clout. An ongoing rift remains wide open between a community-based economic development versus a public-private sector model of bringing in big corporations to create jobs. The never ending battle to try to close the wealth gap between the races. But McKissick’s legacy does live on and he will always be credited as the first African American to officially develop a new city with federal funding. Legacies matter.
There's no doubt the Carters have cemented quite a name for themselves in the culture over the past two decades, yet they’ve also created a different kind of legacy all their own. In Jay-Z’s track, Legacy, on the album 4:44, he explains just what that means to him.
Generational wealth/ that’s the key/ My parents ain’t have shit/so that shift started with me.
The song starts with Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s daughter, Blue Ivy, innocently asking, Daddy, what’s a will? Jay-Z launches into an explanation of what can be thought of as his living will, all while a sampling of Donny Hathway’s Someday We’ll All Be Free plays on the track.
In the song, he reflects on racial wealth inequality and how, as he puts it, generational wealth is what will be key to the future of the black community. Jay-Z’s attention to inheritance fits aptly into the legacy of Floyd McKissick’s fight, the demise of Soul City, and the long history of black families being actively prevented from gaining and keeping financial and political capital.
On Legacy, Jay increasingly sets his sights and concerns on the future of his children. He describes how his mom before him had, too: My mom took her money, she bought me bonds/That was the sweetest thing of all time. He continues in such tradition by establishing security for those in his line of succession. On Legacy, he advises his young daughter with what to do once he’s gone. How to keep the money within the community, how to uplift others in order to keep prosperity for generations to come.
Take those moneys and spread 'cross families
My sisters, Hattie and Lou, the nephews, cousins and TT
Eric, the rest to B for whatever she wants to do
She might start an institute
She might put poor kids through school
My stake in Roc Nation should go to you
Leave a piece for your siblings to give to their children too
TIDAL, the champagne, D'USSÉ, I'd like to see
A nice peace-fund ideas from people who look like we
It can be assumed that Jay-Z and McKissick share a lot of the same views. Fixing the society we’re in. Making success a reality for black Americans, creating a thriving, multi-racial society, like the dream of Soul City, right here in the USA.
We gon' start a society within society
That's major, just like the Negro League
There was a time America wouldn't let us ball
Those times are now back, just now called Afro-tech
Generational wealth, that's the key
And, after officially becoming the first billionaire in hip-hop, it’s hard to doubt Jay-Z won’t follow through on his advice to Blue.
Black excellence, you gon' let 'em see.