Dr. Bobby Wilson researches the way geographical space can be used to shape human lives, then applies that information toward promoting social justice and fighting racism. “Race has a geographical dimension,” said Wilson, a professor of geography at UA. “Space is often used to define social patterns, to make a statement, to exhibit power. There are so many ways in which space is used.”
In April, Wilson will be awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association of American Geographers (AAG). He received the Presidential Achievement Award from AAG in 2012. Both awards are for his dedication to anti-racist work in geography.
Wilson didn’t grow up wanting to be a geographer. Like most college students, he didn’t know what he wanted to do. He became interested in geography because of the expanse the subject covered.
“One of the criticisms of geography is that it doesn’t study a particular phenomenon, it’s very comprehensive,” Wilson said. “But I like that. There are so many things that have geographical implications.”
Wilson published two books in 2000: “America’s Johannesburg: Industrialization and Racial Transformation in Birmingham” and “Race and Place in Birmingham: The Civil Rights and Neighborhood Movements.” Both books focus on the civil rights movement in Birmingham and explain its presence through the industrialism of Birmingham.
“You really can’t understand the civil rights movement in Birmingham without understanding its industrial economy,” Wilson said.
While writing, Wilson studied zoning maps to reveal how Birmingham used space to control the black population.
When Wilson began teaching in 1974 at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, few scholars studied race in a spatial dimension. The field has become more prominent since.
“I like to think that I had something to contribute to that, exposing geographers to race implications,” Wilson said.