Skip to main content

Bobby J. Smith II

Profile picture for Bobby J.  Smith  II

Contact Information

Department of African American Studies
1201 West Nevada Street, MC-143
Urbana, IL 61801

Phone: (217)-244-9139
Assistant Professor

Biography

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 is the author of Food Power Politics: The Food Story of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement (University of North Carolina (UNC) Press, 2023). Food Power Politics is the inaugural book of the newly launched Black Food Justice Series at 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. Dr. Smith’s other writings appear in respected academic journals including Food, Culture, & Society, the premier journal in food studies, Agriculture and Human Values, a top journal for agricultural research in the social sciences, and Agricultural History, the journal of record among agricultural historians.

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.

Research Interests

  • Black Food Studies
  • Black Agrarian Studies 
  • Critical Food Studies
  • Food Justice
  • Food Sovereignty
  • Food Security
  • African American Studies
  • Rural Studies 
  • Sociology of Food
  • Sociology of Agriculture
  • Race, Class, Gender, and Sexualities 
  • Youth Movements

Education

  • Ph.D. | Development Sociology, Cornell University (2018)
  • M.S. |  Agricultural Economics, Cornell University (2013)
  • B.S. (Summa Cum Laude) | Agriculture (Concentration: Agricultural Economics), Prairie View A&M University (2011)

Grants

  • 2020 Extension Collaboration Grant, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Project: "Developing and Delivering a Stress Management and Mental Health Program in Pembroke Township and Kankakee County." 
  • 2017-2019 Engaged Cornell Graduate Student Research Grant, Cornell University. Project: "From Civil Rights to Local Food: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on Food Justice." 
  • 2017 Graduate Research Grant, American Studies Program, Cornell University. Project: "Food Justice and the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement." 
  • 2017 Engaged Cornell Engaged Opportunity Grant, Cornell University. Project: Farm to Plate Conference: Uniting to Create, Educate, and Celebrate a Sustainable Local Food.
  • 2016 Cornell Engaged Curriculum Grant, Cornell University. Project: Seed to Supper: The Role of the Garden in Community Food Security and Food Justice.

Awards and Honors

  • 2023-2024 Research Fellowship, Public Libraries Partnering on Food Justice Project, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. 
  • 2023-2024 National Agricultural Library (NAL) Scholar-in-Residence, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 2023.
  • 2022-2023 Excellence in Service, Outreach, and Engagement Award, Department of African American Studies, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • 2023 Community-Academic Scholars (CAS) Program Project, Interdisciplinary Health Sciences Institute and the Center for Social and Behavioral Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: What makes a user-owned grocery store sustainable?, Co-Academic Mentor (June 2023 – August 2023)
  • 2022-2023 Fellowship, National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)
  • 2021-2022 Fellowship, American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS)
  • 2020 Summer Stipend Award, National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) 
  • 2019-2020 Short-Term Travel Fellowship, Special Collections and University Archives, Library of the Health Sciences-Chicago, Richard J. Daley Library, University of Illinois at Chicago
  • 2018 Study the South Research Fellowship, Department of Archives and Special Collections, J. D. Williams Library, University of Mississippi
  • 2017 Medgar and Myrlie Evers Research Fellowship, Mississippi Department of Archives and History and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation
  • 2016-2017 Mellon Diversity Seminar Fellow, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Cornell University

Courses Taught

  • AFRO 495: Senior Thesis Seminar, Spring 2024
  • AFRO 495: Senior Thesis Seminar, Fall 2023
  • AFRO 224: Race and Food Security, Fall 2023
  • AFRO 495: Senior Thesis Seminar, Spring 2021
  • AFRO 224: Race and Food Security, Spring 2021
  • AFRO 490: Theory in African American Studies, Fall 2020 
  • AFRO 495: Senior Thesis Seminar, Spring 2020 
  • AFRO 224: Race and Food Security, Spring 2020
  • AFRO 298: Civil Rights Pilgrimage, Spring 2019
  • AFRO 224: Race and Food Security, Spring 2019 

Additional Campus Affiliations

Assistant Professor, African American Studies
Assistant Professor, Food Science and Human Nutrition
Affiliate, Center for Social and Behavioral Science

Recent Publications

Books

Smith II, B. J. (2023) Food Power Politics: The Food Story of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina (UNC) Press, 2023) https://uncpress.org/book/9781469675077/food-power-politics/

Edited Books

Bezner Kerr, R., Pendergrast, T. L., Smith II, B. J., and Liebert J.A. (Eds.) (2022). Rethinking Food System Transformation. Switzerland: Springer Nature

Peer-Reviewed Articles and Invited Essays

Smith II, B. J. (2022). “In Search of the New Farmers of America: Remembering America’s Forgotten Black Youth Farm Movement,” Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 11(4), 9–12. https://doi.org/10.5304/jafscd.2022.114.021 [Invited]

Smith II, B. J. (2022). “Reading Ms. Bea’s Food Voice: An Ode to my Grandmothers and Black Women Across the World,” Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, 8(4), 565-566. https://doi.org/10.1177/23326492221119902 [Invited]

Smith II, B. J. and Ewoodzie, J. (2021). “Listening to Zenani’s Food Voice: Recovering Contemporary Black Foodways in Southern Food Studies,” Food, Culture, & Society 24(5), 662-674. https://doi.org/10.1080/15528014.2021.1884439

Smith II, B. J. (2020). “Food and the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement: Re-Reading the 1962-1963 Greenwood Food Blockade,” Food, Culture, & Society. 23(3), 382-398. https://doi.org/10.1080/15528014.2020.1741066

Smith II, B. J. (2019). Black Lives and Agricultural History. Centennial Roundtable: Why Does Agricultural History Matter? Agricultural History, 93(4), 725-726. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5d3878547ea6120001bb0da8/t/5dd30a2fb87df6283ecf6f89/1574111792730/93.4_Roundtable_WhyDoesAHMatter.pdf

Smith II, B. J. (2019). “Mississippi’s War Against the War on Poverty: Food Power, Hunger, and White Supremacy,” Study the Southhttps://southernstudies.olemiss.edu/study-the-south/ms-war-against-war-on-poverty/

Smith II, B. J. (2019). “Food Justice, Intersectional Agriculture, and the Triple Food Movement,” Agriculture and Human Values. 36(4), 825-835https://doi.org/10.1007/s10460-019-09945-y

Pendergrastt, T. L., Smith II, B. J., Bezner Kerr, R., and Liebert, J. (2019).“Introduction to the Symposium: Rethinking Food System Transformation: Food Sovereignty, Agroecology, Food Justice, Community Action, and Scholarship,” Agriculture and Human Values. 36(4), 819-823https://doi.org/10.1007/s10460-019-09952-z

Smith II, B. J. (2019).“Building Emancipatory Food Power: Freedom Farms, Rocky Acres, and the Struggle for Food Justice.” Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development8(4) 33-43. https://doi.org/10.5304/jafscd.2019.084.009

Waller, T., Smith II, B. J., and Lumumba-Kasongo, E. (2014). "The Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program at Cornell University: Survey Results and the Push for Qualitative Research." Journal of College Orientation and Transition, 22,1. https://www.nodaweb.org/page/jcot_fall_2014

Smith II, B. J., Kaiser, H. M., and Gómez, M. I. (2013). "Identifying Factors Influencing a Hospital's Decision to Adopt a Farm-to-Hospital Program." Agricultural and Resource Economics Review42(3), 508-517. https://ageconsearch.umn.edu/record/159225

Peer-Reviewed Book Chapters

Smith II, B. J. (2022). “Food Justice, Intersectional Agriculture, and the Triple Food Movement.” In R. Bezner Kerr, T. L. Pendregrast, B. J. Smith II, J. A. Liebert (Eds.), Rethinking Food System Transformation. Switzerland: Springer Nature

Smith II, B. J. (2021).  “'From the Projects to the Pasture': Navigating Food Justice, Race, and Food Localism.” In A. S. Bartel & D. A. Castillo (Eds.), The Scholar as Human: Engaging the Humanities in Public (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press).  https://www.cornellpress.cornell.edu/book/9781501750625/the-scholar-as-human/#bookTabs=1 

Book Reviews, Media, and Other Writings

Delta Fresh Foods Initiative, David Hanson, and Bobby J. Smith II (2021). “Remembering the Past, Building the Future: Oral Food Histories of North Bolivar County” (Documentary Short film). https://vimeo.com/654696561/3c36069e68

Bobby J. Smith II, Black Food Geographies: Race, Self-Reliance, and Food Access in Washington, D.C., by Ashanté M. Reese (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2019), Journal of Southern History 86, 2 (May 2020): 498-499. 

Bobby J. Smith II, Food Justice Now! Deepening the Roots of Social Struggle, by Joshua Sbicca (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2018), Mobilization: An International Quarterly 24, 1 (March 2019): 121-122.

Smith II, B. J. (2017). The Greenwood Food Blockade: The White Citizens Council, SNCC and the Politics of Food Access. Winter 2017 Edition of Gravy, No. 66 (Publication of the Southern Foodways Alliance). https://www.southernfoodways.org/the-greenwood-food-blockade/