In Memoriam: Bobby M. Wilson
Dr. Bobby M. Wilson, Emeritus Professor of Geography at the University of Alabama, who was a widely recognized leader in anti-racist scholarship, passed away on August 25th, 2021.
Dr. Wilson grew up on a farm in Warrenton, North Carolina where his responsibilities on the farm shaped his character and strength. It was also in Warrenton that he participated in the struggle for civil rights in the early 1960s. Later, he would attend North Carolina Central University, which was one of the few historically black colleges that offered an undergraduate degree in geography. He earned a B.A. in Geography there and then received a fellowship to attend Clark University, where he earned a M.A. (1973) and Ph.D. (1974).
His first teaching position was in the Department of Urban Studies at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, from 1974-2002. He moved to the University of Alabama (in Tuscaloosa) in 2002, where he stayed for nearly two decades pursuing anti-racist scholarship. He also served as interim chair and retired as professor emeritus in 2015. Fittingly, his office in Farrah Hall was only a few steps away from Malone Hood Plaza on The University of Alabama campus, which celebrates the desegregation of the University of Alabama. His proximity to the plaza is symbolic of Dr. Wilson’s long dedication to anti-racist scholarship.
Wilson was active in several research areas including Urban and Social Geography; Urban Studies; Black Geographies; and the civil rights movement. His publications cover topics including Black perspectives on labor geographies, racial capitalism, urban planning, and residential segregation. His most notable publications were America’s Johannesburg: Industrialization and Racial Transformation in Birmingham, and Race and Place in Birmingham: The Civil Rights and Neighborhood Movements, both published in 2000. These books explore crucial links between the civil rights movement, the unique rise of industrial development in Birmingham, and Alabama’s former slaveholding plantation economy. These books are highly regarded in a variety of disciplines from Urban Studies to Economic Geography for their clear analysis of the spatial dimensions of race and exploitation of Black labor during industrialization. As a testament to the lasting importance of his work, The University of Georgia Press republished America’s Johannesburg in 2019.
In addition to being a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners and the Editorial Board, of Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography, Dr. Wilson was also a long-time member of the American Association of Geographers and was active in the Southeast Division (SEDAAG). He served on the Editorial Committee, of Southeastern Geographer, Journal of the Southeastern Division, Association of American Geographers, the Editorial Board, of Annals of the Association of American Geographers, and AAG’s Commission on Afro-American Geography.
He was recognized by the AAG with a Presidential Achievement Award in 2012, and both a Rose Award for Anti-Racism Research and Practice and the AAG Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015. The latter in “recognition of his extraordinary contributions to the scholarship of urban and social geography, urban studies, and anti-racist theory and practice; his teaching and mentoring; as well as his exemplary leadership in support of geography.”
Dr. Wilson is remembered fondly by many former colleagues and students at the University of Alabama and elsewhere.