Births Deaths Marriages, North Carolina

In memoriam: William S. Powell.

Renowned North Carolina historian William S. Powell died last week. He was 95.

I came into my deep interest in history late in my undergraduate career, and I never took a class in the history department at the University of North Carolina. I did have an encounter with Dr. Powell, though.

I had just encountered Walker Colvert on microfilm for the first time. The 1900 federal census of Iredell County, North Carolina, listed the 74 year-old former slave as Virginia-born, and I wondered how I might ever determine where he might have come from. Afloat in naivete, I called Dr. Powell’s office and asked for an appointment. I wanted to understand migration patterns into North Carolina’s western Piedmont, and I thought “who better to ask?” Dr. Powell was welcoming and patient and betrayed no sign that he did not entertain curious English majors everyday. I came away from my brief visit with a strong suggested-reading list and even a personal tip that he knew of Colverts from the Staunton, Virginia, area. Three years later, I was enrolled in the graduate program in American History at Columbia University.

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North Carolina, Paternal Kin

Floyd McKissick and Soul City

We drove up from Wilson to Soul City a few times in the mid-1970s, when my mother’s brother Charles C. Allen was city planner for the project. My memories are fleeting: the iconic Soul City sign, a scattering of house trailers, a large white “plantation house” cum operations center, and tick-infested fields. I was maybe 10 or 11; I wasn’t paying attention. We didn’t know it at the time, but we had another family link to Soul City. Floyd McKissick’s wife, Evelyn Williams McKissick, was the granddaughter of Mathew W. Aldridge and niece of my grandmother’s cousins Mamie Aldridge Rochelle and Fannie Aldridge Randolph.

This Day in North Carolina History

A 1970 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development advertisement for Soul City.

On November 9, 1973, civil rights activist Floyd McKissick broke ground on Soul City in rural Warren County.

The Soul City project sought to improve the economic prospects of underprivileged African Americans by providing them with affordable housing and creating an alternative to urban slums. Warren County was chosen for the project because it was one of the poorest areas in the state.

McKissick, the driving force behind the project, was the first African American man to go to law school at the University of North Carolina and thought that economic power was the first step to political freedom. The project received several million dollars in support from the state and federal government, as well as from private donors.

A child at the 1973 groundbreaking. Image from the State Archives and copyright the Raleigh News & Observer

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