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Seton Hall Law Professor Thomas Healy Named a Guggenheim Fellow

Author of acclaimed history of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’ impact on the First Amendment turns his attention to Soul City and its implications for the civil rights movement

Newark, NJ -- Seton Hall Law Professor Thomas Healy has been named a 2015 Fellow by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

Awarded annually on the basis of “prior achievement and exceptional promise,” the Guggenheim Fellowship is one of the most coveted mid-career awards in the country. Since 1925, the Foundation has granted over $325 million in Fellowships to almost 18,000 individuals, among whom are scores of Nobel laureates and poets laureate, as well as winners of the Pulitzer Prize, Fields Medal, and other important, internationally recognized honors. Professor Healy is one of 175 scholars, artists and scientists who were selected this year from among more than 3,100 applicants.

A professor at Seton Hall since 2003, Healy is 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. He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in the category of general non-fiction and will spend the year researching and writing his next book, Soul City: The Lost Dream of an American Utopia.

Soul City, a concept developed and nurtured in the 1970s by civil rights leader Floyd McKissick, was designed to be 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 was one of the most important projects to grow out of the civil rights movement, yet it is now largely forgotten as both a concept and a place,” said Professor Healy. “I plan to tell the fascinating story of its rise and fall and to explore the lessons it offers us about race relations and economic inequality today.”

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’s own work on the free speech protection that we enjoy today represents the very best of legal scholarship. His passion for both scholarship and teaching resulted in our generation’s finest work on the origins of free speech as we know it today,” said Dean Patrick E. Hobbs. “I am certain his story of Soul City will be an invaluable contribution to our understanding of the civil rights movement as it evolved through the 1960s and 1970s. On behalf of Seton Hall Law School, we congratulate Professor Healy on his selection as a Guggenheim Fellow.”

Seton Hall University School of Law, New Jersey's only private law school and a leading law school in the New York metropolitan area, is dedicated to preparing students for the practice of law through excellence in scholarship and teaching, with a strong focus on clinical education. Founded in 1951, Seton Hall Law School is located in Newark and offers both day and evening degree programs. For more information visit


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April 108, 2015