Thomas Healy

Thomas Healy


Professor of Law at Seton Hall Law

Soul City: Race, Equality, and the Lost Dream of an American Utopia
Sheila Biddle Ford Foundation Fellow
Fall 2016


Thomas Healy is a professor of law at Seton Hall Law School. His book The Great Dissent: How Oliver Wendell Holmes Changed His Mind – and Changed the History of Free Speech in America won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award, and the New Jersey Council for the Humanities Book Award. It was also selected as a New York Times Book Review editor's choice and was named one of the fifteen best non-fiction books of 2013 by the Christian Science Monitor. He is currently at work on a new book, for which he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Professor Healy received his B.A. in Journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and his J.D. from Columbia Law School, where he was a James Kent Scholar, Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar and Book Review and Essay Editor of the Columbia Law Review. Prior to joining Seton Hall, he clerked for Judge Michael Daly Hawkins on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit and was an associate at Sidley Austin Brown and Wood in Washington D.C., where he worked on several cases before the United States Supreme Court. He also worked for many years as a newspaper reporter, first in North Carolina and later as Supreme Court Correspondent for the Baltimore Sun. Professor Healy was named Professor of the Year by the student body in 2008-09 and Faculty Researcher of the Year by Seton Hall University in 2015.

Project Description

Soul City: Race, Equality, and the Lost Dream of an American Utopia

I am writing a book about Soul City, N.C., an experimental community founded by civil rights leader Floyd McKissick in 1969.  Located on a former slave plantation near the border of Virginia, Soul City was designed to ease overcrowding in the ghettos of the north and serve as a model of black economic empowerment.  Although supported by the Nixon Administration, the city ran into opposition from conservatives such as Jesse Helms who viewed it as a form of liberal welfarism.  It was also attacked by liberals who saw it as a separatist venture that would undermine the move toward integration.  Caught between these two forces and hindered by a weak economy, Soul City struggled to get off the ground and was eventually shut down in 1979.  Today, it is largely deserted.  Most of the original residents have left, the buildings are vacant, the streets are cracked and crumbling, and the industrial plant that was supposed to pave the way to black economic freedom has been converted into a prison.  My book will tell the story of Soul City’s rise and fall, chronicling the experience of the pioneers who attempted to build it and exploring the political, social, and economic factors that led to its demise.  I will also consider what Soul City’s failure tells us about the continuing struggle to provide economic opportunity for black Americans and the consequences of our failure to do so, as demonstrated by recent events in Ferguson and Baltimore.

Fall 2016: Sheila Biddle Ford Foundation Fellow

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