Professor Thomas Healy has been awarded a Fellowship by the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University. The Fellowship is conducted under the direction of Hutchins Center leader Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the world-renowned scholar and civil rights activist.
“Each year, the Hutchins Center selects fifteen or twenty Fellows – scholars who have immersed themselves in research projects exploring all facets of African American history, life and culture – and further supports their endeavors,” Professor Healy explained. “I was awarded the Fellowship on the basis of my book about the history of Soul City, North Carolina, one of the lesser remembered but most fascinating initiatives of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1970s.”
Soul City, a concept developed and nurtured by civil rights leader Floyd McKissick, was designed as a model of black economic empowerment and to help relieve the blight of the northern ghettos. The planned city was to be built on an abandoned slave plantation in rural North Carolina, reflecting the latest innovations in social policy and urban planning. Despite support from the Nixon administration and various private organizations, the plan ran into stiff resistance from conservatives, including Senator Jesse Helms, and was abandoned after 10 years.
Soul City: The Lost Dream of an American Utopia is well underway, and will fill a large gap in the history of civil rights. “I have found a few dissertations, a documentary produced by students at Wake Forest University, and a self-published book about Soul City,” Professor Healy noted, “but nothing that put this fascinating story in its rich context.”
Thomas Healy is a Professor of Law and the Gerard Carey Research Fellow at Seton Hall University School of Law, where his teaching and scholarship focus on issues related to Constitutional Law and, specifically, the First Amendment. “From a career perspective, the book builds on my work as a legal scholar writing about civil rights and civil liberties,” he said. The project also returns him to his roots, since he grew up in North Carolina, attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and worked for five years as a reporter for the Raleigh News & Observer, which played a central role in Soul City's demise.
Professor Healy is also the author of The Great Dissent: How Oliver Wendell Holmes Changed His Mind – and Changed the History of Free Speech in America (Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt), which won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award, and the New Jersey Council for the Humanities Book Award. In 2015, Professor Healy was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in the category of general non-fiction in support of his research on Soul City.
Professor Healy will commence his Fellowship in fall 2016, taking up residence in Cambridge. “I have been reading ‘widely and deeply’ about the Civil Rights Movement, from Black Power to 1970s politics to the rise and fall of Richard Nixon,” he said. “The Hutchins Center offers vast resources and opportunities to meet with other scholars who can offer additional perspectives on my research. I look forward to immersing myself in this rigorous scholarly environment.”
“Like his prior work, Professor Healy’s scholarship will provide new insights into our continuing push for civil rights and civil liberties,” said Kathleen M. Boozang, Dean and Professor of Law. “On behalf of Seton Hall Law, I congratulate Thomas on this achievement. It’s another milestone in his career as a groundbreaking scholar. Seton Hall students are indeed fortunate to have professors like him in our classrooms.”
Following his Fellowship at the Hutchins Center, Professor Healy will serve as a Visiting Scholar at the Center for the Study of Law & Culture at Columbia University Law School.