Born in Asheville, North Carolina on March 9, 1922, McKissick did his
undergraduate work at Morehouse and North Caroline colleges, and later
graduated form the University of North Caroline Law School.
During World War II McKissick served in the European Theater as a
sergeant. After the war, he began legal practice in Durham, North
Caroline, where he once represented his own daughter in her successful
bid to gain admission to a previously all-white public school.
the victory, McKissick later decided that "integration" itself
only magnified the perils faced by many black children, McKissick
bitterly recalled that his children had been taunted and harassed:
"Patches cut out of their hair, pages torn out of books, water
thrown on them in the dead of winter, ink down the front of their
dresses"-a demoralizing array of constant and relentless pressures
designed to crack their composure and destroy their will to learn. The
adversity no doubt deepened McKissick’s nascent radicalism and
As a lawyer, McKissick’s most publicized efforts involved a segregated
black local in the Tobacco Workers International, an AFL-CIO member.
McKissick pressed to have black workers admitted to the skilled scale
without loss of their seniority rating. McKissick also successfully
defended "sit-in" protestors in the South.
It was at this time the rupture widened between the older, established
civil rights groups, dependent for their programming on a coalition of
educated blacks and affluent whites liberals, and the younger, more
rancorous black militants who turned their backs on most institutional
whites support. The militants argued that the civil rights groups did
not appreciate the urgency of many problems affecting black urban
majorities, particularly in the job area where technology often reduced
people to ciphers.
When Floyd McKissick replaced James Farmer as head of CORE on January 3,
1966, the organization completed a 180-degree turn that saw it change
from an interracial integrationist civil rights agency pledged to uphold
nonviolence into a militant and uncompromising advocate of the ideology
of black power. McKissick and Roy Innis, who at that time was the head
of the Harlem chapter of CORE, were close allies, and when McKissick
left CORE in 1968, Innis took over.
After leaving CORE, McKissick launched a plan to build a new community,
Soul City, on Warren County North Carolina farmland. McKissick saw Soul
City as an integrated community with sufficient industry to support a
population of 55,000. For his venture, he received a $14 million bond
issue guarantee from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and
a loan of $500,000 form the First Pennsylvania Bank.
McKissick (2nd from left)
and other Black Leaders meet with President Kennedy
(back row, 3rd from right) and other Black Leaders at Lincoln
Memorial following the successful "March on Washington"
Soul City, however, ran into difficulties and despite the best offers of McKissick, the project never developed as he had anticipated. Finally,
in June 1980, the Soul City Corporation and the federal government
reached an agreement that would allow the government to assume control
the following January. Under the agreement, the company retained 88
acres of the project, including the site of a mobile home park and a
60,000 square foot building that had served as the project’s
The Department of Housing & Urban Development paid off $10 million in
loans and agreed to pay an additional $175,000 of the project’s
debts. In exchange, McKissick agreed to drop a lawsuit
brought to block HUD from shutting down the project.
McKissick and Dr. King march at
memorial for James Merideth
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