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Seton Hall University

Honoring the Civil Rights Movement's Legacy, Professor Selected as Hooks National Book Award Winner  

Picture of Thomas HealyLaw Professor Thomas Healy’s latest book, Soul City: Race, Equality, and the Lost Dream of an American Utopia, Metropolitan Books, was selected as the winner of the 2021 Hooks National Book Award by the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change at the University of Memphis. This prestigious award, selected in partnership with Memphis Public Libraries, is presented annually to a non-fiction book that best furthers understanding of the civil rights movement and its legacy.

"I'm thrilled to see Soul City, which was forgotten for so long, be recognized as an essential part of the history of the civil rights movement," said Professor Healy. He will receive the award and discuss his book at 6 p.m. on Nov. 15, 2022 at the Benjamin Hooks Central Library, 3030 Poplar Ave, in Memphis.

Healy is the Board of Visitors Distinguished Professor of Law at Seton Hall Law, where his teaching and scholarship focus on issues related to constitutional law, freedom of speech, legal history, civil rights, and federal courts. A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, this latest book chronicles the 1970s attempt to build a city dedicated to racial equality on a former slave plantation in rural North Carolina. Professor Healy was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and received a Public Scholar Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Public Scholar Grant supports the creation of well-researched nonfiction books in the humanities written for the broad public.

"Thomas Healy’s Soul City stood out among a strong collection of finalists for its beautiful but tragic chronicle of a virtually forgotten manifestation of civil rights ideology, the decade-long attempt to construct a prosperous city from the ground up that was built around racial equality but rooted in Black economic prosperity," said Terrence Tucker, associate professor of English at the University of Memphis and chair of the Hooks National Book Award committee.

Recent past recipients have included Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America by Marcia Chatelain; Occupied Territory: Policing Black Chicago from Red Summer to Black Power by Dr. Simon Balto; An American Odyssey: The Life and Work of Romare Bearden by Dr. Mary Schmidt Campbell; Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America by James Forman, Jr.

"Professor Healy epitomizes the scholar whose research informs his teaching. His work advances the understanding of society at large about important gaps in our history. He takes his deep knowledge and passion into the classroom at Seton Hall Law, providing our students with an incomparable experience that will impact them for life. I could not be happier that Professor Healy’s work is receiving this well-deserved recognition for Soul City," said Seton Hall Law Dean Kathleen M. Boozang, J.D., LL.M.

Of Soul City, Henry Louis Gates Jr., author of Stony the Road and host of Finding Your Roots, wrote:

A meticulously researched and engagingly written history of Soul City, Floyd McKissick’s utopian 1970s vision for a new city providing Black economic empowerment. In tracing its demise, Thomas Healy brilliantly unpacks the attacks on the town by North Carolina’s politicians and the press. As well as providing a detailed exploration of the power of institutional racism, Healy also celebrates the courage of the Soul City residents, 'pursuing their dream and refusing to accept falling short as a sign of failure.'

Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, said:

Thomas Healy tells a gripping, revealing, and ultimately tragic story of Black dreams of freedom derailed by false promises of capitalism and conservative white allies. One need not share Floyd McKissick’s faith that a Black utopia could be underwritten by corporate power to feel his pain, as the dream of Soul City—and all the hope it represented—unravels before his eyes.

David Oshinsky, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Bellevue and Worse Than Slavery stated:

For those seeking a better understanding of the racial divide that faces America today, Thomas Healy’s Soul City is a must-read. Planned in the late 1960s as a haven for African Americans seeking both political autonomy and a piece of the American dream, the Soul City project became a depressing example of the obstacles that arise to confront progressive change. Sometimes, a largely forgotten story like this one sheds more light on our history than a famous, familiar tale. An elegantly written, razor-sharp account, Soul City should stir the conscience of us all.

A photo of Soul CityThe finalists, chosen from 43 books that were nominated for the award include: The Citizenship Education Program and the Black Women's Political Culture by Dr. Deanna Gillespie, University Press of Florida; Until I Am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer's Enduring Message to America by Dr. Keisha Blain, Beacon Press; Walk With Me: A Biography of Fannie Lou Hamer by Dr. Kate Clifford Larson, Oxford University Press; and The Young Crusaders: The Untold Story of the Children and Teenagers Who Galvanized the Civil Rights Movement by Dr. V.P. Franklin, Beacon Press.

To watch Healy’s PBS interview with Steve Adubato, visit Soul City: A Failed Racially Equitable City.

Categories: Law