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Food as Power: A Conversation with Author Dr. Bobby J. Smith II

How was food used as a weapon against African Americans during the civil rights movement in Mississippi? How did African Americans fight back?

Join Dr. Bobby J. Smith II (Assistant Professor of African American Studies at UIUC) and Monica M. Scott (Manager of Community Engagement and Programs at the Spurlock Museum) in conversation around Dr. Smith’s book Food Power Politics: The Food Story of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement.

About the Book

Food Power Politics is the inaugural book of the newly launched Black Food Justice Series at the University of North Carolina (UNC) Press. Thinking with multiple disciplines including African American Studies, critical food studies, and agricultural science, Food Power Politics brings into focus how food was used as a weapon against African Americans during the civil rights movement in Mississippi, and how they fought back, creating their own food programs and systems. Interfacing archival data, in-depth interviews, and oral histories, Food Power Politics illuminates how the food dynamics of the Mississippi civil rights movement provide a pathway for understanding how Black youth today—in Mississippi and beyond—are building food justice movements, grappling with inequalities that attempt to shape their lives.

About the Author

Dr. Bobby J. Smith II is an interdisciplinary scholar of the African American agricultural and food experience. Trained as a sociologist, with a background in agricultural economics, Dr. Smith is an Assistant Professor in the Department of African American Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, with affiliations in the Department of Food Science & Human Nutrition and the Center for Social & Behavioral Science. His research program and teaching agenda cultivates an intellectual sphere and public space to interpret how Black people build agricultural and food systems amid inequalities that orbit the Black world. At the same time, Dr. Smith’s research and teaching illuminates how the building of agricultural and food systems by Black people reconfigures pre-existing conceptualizations of agriculture and food.

Dr. Smith earned a B.S. degree (summa cum laude) in Agriculture, with a focus on Agricultural Economics, from Prairie View A&M University in 2011. He earned a M.S. degree in Agricultural and Applied Economics in 2013 and a Ph.D. in Development Sociology in 2018 from Cornell University. Dr. Smith been awarded fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi, Special Collections and University Archives at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Institute in partnership with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, among others. Deeply committed to public engagement, Dr. Smith was awarded the 2022-2023 Outstanding Service, Community Engagement, and Outreach Award in the Department of African American Studies.

This program is part of the Black Joy Project.

Download Event Flyer (PDF)

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This program is partially supported by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council Agency.


For further information on this event, contact Monica M. Scott at or (217) 300-6213

All participants are welcome. To request disability-related accommodations for this event, please contact Brian Cudiamat at or (217) 244-5586.