From Civil Rights to Food Justice: Historiography, Food Power and Resistance
Smith, Bobby Joe, II
Throughout the American Civil Rights movement, food played a central role within the social and economic politics of Mississippi. For proponents of the movement, food became a critical tool of resistance in response to inequality. For opponents, food was used as a weapon of power to maintain white supremacy and undermine the entire movement. Yet narratives of food are largely absent from civil rights historiography, obscured by struggles for voting rights, integration, and education. Written as three papers, this dissertation shifts the way we understand the historical struggle for civil rights, the contemporary struggle for food justice and food sovereignty, and the politics of food. The first paper recovers the broader food story of the civil rights era in Mississippi and shows how power and politics obscured key elements of that story at the intersection of gender, class, time, and space. Drawing on a wide range of archival materials, civil rights scholarship, and interviews, I analyze responses to the 1962-1963 Greenwood Food Blockade and examine the work of activists such as Fannie Lou Hamer and L.C. Dorsey to ensure food security among poor blacks in the Delta through efforts such as farm cooperatives and food projects. The second paper situates the concept of food power—the use of food as a weapon or an element of power in the global context of politics and national security—at the center of post-1965 anti-civil rights activism in Mississippi. Led by US Representative Jamie Whitten, Senator John Stennis, and Senator James Eastland, the congressional white power structure ignited a campaign against War on Poverty efforts designed to alleviate poverty and hunger in Mississippi. Such antipoverty efforts, in the context of civil rights throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, threatened the politics of white supremacy. In the third paper, I juxtapose the historical case of Freedom Farms Cooperative in Mississippi and the contemporary case of Rocky Acres Community Farm in Central New York to demonstrate how these cases help us understand relations between historical and contemporary struggles for food justice as a strategy for building emancipatory forms of food power and sustainability.
resistance; Sociology; Civil Rights; Food Justice; Historiography; American history; Inequality; African American studies; power
Leonard, Lori; Rooks, Noliwe M.
Ph. D., Development Sociology
Doctor of Philosophy
dissertation or thesis