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A doctoral student from Cornell University has been named the 2017 Medgar and Myrlie Evers Research Scholar. Bobby J. Smith II will explore the relationship between the politics of food, race, and activism using the holdings of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

“Bobby’s research focuses on the historical antecedents of contemporary ideas about food justice and food sovereignty,” said Cornell University associate professor of history Lori Leonard, “His starting point is the iconic Greenwood Food Blockade, which is a prominent example of how food—and control over access to food—mattered to movement politics.”

In October 1962, the Leflore County board of supervisors voted to discontinue the USDA’s federal commodity program, which provided corn meal, rice, flour, and sugar free of charge each month to more than 20,000 African American residents. In response, the nascent Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee organized a national food drive, which also gave them direct access to black residents of Leflore County for a voter registration campaign. In spring of 1963, the supervisors reinstituted the commodities program.

“My goal is to reveal unexplored aspects of movement politics,” said Smith. “My project departs from the traditional line of civil rights inquiry and investigates the Greenwood Food Blockade with a focus on how food was a weapon of opposition and a tool of resistance in the civil rights era.”

Smith graduated summa cum laude with a BS degree in agricultural economics from Prairie View A&M University. He holds an MS in agricultural economics from Cornell University, where he is at work on a PhD in the Department of Developmental Sociology. Smith will use the $4,000 award to cover travel, housing, and other expenses while doing primary research at the state archives during June and July. He plans to focus initially on the Citizens’ Council (Miss.) collection, 1954-1956; the Medgar Wiley and Myrlie Beasley Evers Papers, 1900-1994; and the Fannie Lou Townsend Hamer collection, 1967-2001.

“We’re delighted to partner with the Evers Institute and the Kellogg Foundation on this scholarship,” said David Pilcher, director of the MDAH Archives and Record Services Division. “Our goal is to facilitate new and exciting research using the tremendous resources here at the state archives.”

The Medgar and Myrlie Evers Research Scholars Program, a collaboration between MDAH and the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Institute supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, encourages work in the history of civil and human rights using the state archives’ holdings to publish original research.

The Evers Papers may be accessed at the William F. Winter Archives and History Building, 200 North Street, Jackson. For more information on the Evers Scholar program or about the Evers Papers, contact Laura Heller at 601-576-6850 or by email at

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