EXCLUSIVE: Imagine Documentaries has won an auction for the Thomas Healy book Soul City. The plan is to develop the book across multiple divisions at Imagine in scripted and unscripted formats. Soul City tells the revealing, forgotten story of the 1970s attempt to build a city dedicated to racial equality in the heart of “Klan Country,” and the impassioned mission of civil rights leader Floyd McKissick.
“Imagine is honored to bring this important and forgotten story of Soul City to life for audiences. Its contemporary relevance is undeniable,” said Imagine Documentaries’ Sara Bernstein and Justin Wilkes, jointly.
In 1969, with America’s cities in turmoil and racial tensions high, civil rights leader McKissick announced an audacious plan: he would build a new city in rural North Carolina, open to all but intended primarily to benefit Black people. Named Soul City, the community secured funding from the Nixon administration and planning help from Harvard and the University of North Carolina. Before long, the brand-new settlement – built on a former slave plantation – had roads, houses, a health care center, and an industrial plant. By the year 2000, projections said, Soul City would have fifty thousand residents.
But the Utopian vision was not to be. The race-baiting Jesse Helms, newly elected as senator from North Carolina, swore to stop government spending on the project and the liberal Raleigh News & Observer mistakenly claimed fraud. Battered from the left and the right, Soul City was shut down after just a decade. Today, it is a ghost town – and its industrial plant, erected to promote Black economic freedom, has been converted into a prison. The book resurrects this forgotten saga of race, capitalism, and the struggle for equality and considers how might America be different today if Soul City had been allowed to succeed.
“Soul City was one of the most important projects to emerge from the civil rights era, yet it nearly vanished from our collective memory,” said Healy. “I’m thrilled that Imagine will bring this remarkable story to a wide audience, and I’m confident it will give Floyd McKissick’s unrealized dream the thoughtful and respectful treatment it deserves.”
Healy, who also wrote The Great Dissent, which won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award and the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award, a professor of law at Seton Hall Law School, and was awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship in support of his work on Soul City.
Imagine Documentaries’ slate includes the Charles Schulz docu Who Are You Charlie Brown? for Apple TV+, the 2021 Tribeca Festival premiere of Paper & Glue, directed by legendary French artist JR; Gossip, a limited series chronicling Cindy Adams’ four-decade career at the New York Post as the “reigning queen of gossip” (Showtime); Julia, a documentary on legendary chef Julia Child, directed by Julie Cohen and Betsy West (Sony Pictures Classics); Black and Blues: The Colorful Ballad of Louis Armstrong for Apple TV+; and Ron Howard’s next documentary feature film on chef Jose Andres and the World Central Kitchen organization, for National Geographic Films.
Soul City is published by Metropolitan Books. Healy is represented by UTA and Ryan Harbage at The Fischer-Harbage Agency. UTA brokered the deal for the adaptation.