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Food Power Politics: The Food Story of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement
Bobby J. Smith II


This book unearths a food story buried deep within the soil of American civil rights history. Drawing on archival research, interviews, and oral histories, Bobby J. Smith II re-examines the Mississippi civil rights movement as a period when activists expanded the meaning of civil rights to address food as integral to sociopolitical and economic conditions. For decades, white economic and political actors used food as a weapon against Black sharecropping communities in the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta, but members of these communities collaborated with activists to transform food into a tool of resistance. Today, Black youth are building a food justice movement in the Delta to continue this story, grappling with inequalities that continue to shape their lives.

Drawing on multiple disciplines including critical food studies, Black studies, history, sociology, and southern studies, Smith makes critical connections between civil rights activism and present-day food justice activism in Black communities, revealing how power struggles over food empower them to envision Black food futures in which communities have the full autonomy and capacity to imagine, design, create, and sustain a self-sufficient local food system.


Bobby J. Smith II is assistant professor of African American studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.


"[Smith] shows how the struggles of the region’s Black communities laid the groundwork for the modern food justice movement. Sadly, access to fresh, unprocessed meals still elude many Black Americans today, but this little-known narrative reconstructed by Smith offers key lessons that could inform the current challenges." -- Civil Eats

"Smith's pathbreaking and interdisciplinary work recovers a food focus that has often been muted in the historical retelling of the movements of the civil rights and Black Power era. Food Power Politics provides a perspective on history, on food justice, and on the fight for civil and human rights that offers important lessons for how we understand food sovereignty." -- Monica M. White, University of Wisconsin

"The civil rights movement operated on a series of registers that made it a multilayered and nuanced mass of movements. Here, Bobby Smith II examines the layer providing bodily sustenance and how food, politics, and race operated together. Food was weaponized in modes of oppression but also used to shield and protect communities as an expression of freedom. With four case studies in Mississippi’s civil rights movement, Smith underlines the power of local histories and local people to tell national structural stories while celebrating the resilience of Black folk in the wake of white supremacist tactics to literally starve Black progress." -- Françoise N. Hamlin, author of Crossroads at Clarksdale: The Black Freedom Struggle in the Mississippi Delta after World War II

[P]  University of North Carolina Press  /  August 29, 2023

0.49" H x 9.21" L x 6.14" W (0.74 lbs) 216 pages