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Franchise
Cover of Franchise
Franchise
The Golden Arches in Black America
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From civil rights to Ferguson, Franchise reveals the untold history of how fast food became one of the greatest generators of black wealth in America.

An estimated one-third of all American adults eats something from at a fast-food restaurant every day. Millions start their mornings with paper-wrapped English muffin breakfast sandwiches, order burritos hastily secured in foil for lunch, and end their evenings with extravalue dinners consumed in cars. But while people of all ages and backgrounds enjoy and depend on fast food, it does not mean the same thing to each of us. For African Americans, as acclaimed historian Marcia Chatelain reveals in Franchise, fast food is a source of both despair and power—and a battlefield on which the fight for racial justice has been waged since the 1960s.

On the one hand, we rightly blame fast food for the rising rates of obesity and diabetes among black Americans, and fast food restaurants are viewed as symbols of capitalism's disastrous effects on our nation's most vulnerable citizens. Yet at the same time, Chatelain shows, fast food companies, and McDonald's in particular, have represented a source of economic opportunity and political power. After Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination in 1968, many activists turned to entrepreneurship as the means to achieving equality. Civil rights leaders, fast food companies, black capitalists, celebrities, and federal bureaucrats began an unlikely collaboration, in the belief that the franchising of fast food restaurants, by black citizens in their own neighborhoods, could improve the quality of black life.

Equipped with federal loans and utterly committed to the urban centers in which they would open their little sites of hope, black franchise pioneers achieved remarkable success, and by the late 2000s, black-franchised McDonald's restaurants reported total sales exceeding $2 billion. Fast food represented an opportunity for strivers who had been shut out of many industries, denied promotions in those that would tolerate them, and discouraged, in numerous ways, from starting their own businesses, all because of the color of their skin. But a parallel story emerged, too—of wealth being extracted from black communities, of the ravages of fast food diets, of minumum wage jobs with little prospect for advancement.

Taking us from the first McDonald's drive-in in San Bernardino in the 1940s to civil rights protests at franchises in the American South in the 1960s and the McDonald's on Florissant Avenue in Ferguson in the summer 2014, Chatelain charts how the fight for racial justice is intertwined with the fate of black businesses. Deeply researched and brilliantly told, Franchise is an essential story of race and capitalism in America.

From civil rights to Ferguson, Franchise reveals the untold history of how fast food became one of the greatest generators of black wealth in America.

An estimated one-third of all American adults eats something from at a fast-food restaurant every day. Millions start their mornings with paper-wrapped English muffin breakfast sandwiches, order burritos hastily secured in foil for lunch, and end their evenings with extravalue dinners consumed in cars. But while people of all ages and backgrounds enjoy and depend on fast food, it does not mean the same thing to each of us. For African Americans, as acclaimed historian Marcia Chatelain reveals in Franchise, fast food is a source of both despair and power—and a battlefield on which the fight for racial justice has been waged since the 1960s.

On the one hand, we rightly blame fast food for the rising rates of obesity and diabetes among black Americans, and fast food restaurants are viewed as symbols of capitalism's disastrous effects on our nation's most vulnerable citizens. Yet at the same time, Chatelain shows, fast food companies, and McDonald's in particular, have represented a source of economic opportunity and political power. After Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination in 1968, many activists turned to entrepreneurship as the means to achieving equality. Civil rights leaders, fast food companies, black capitalists, celebrities, and federal bureaucrats began an unlikely collaboration, in the belief that the franchising of fast food restaurants, by black citizens in their own neighborhoods, could improve the quality of black life.

Equipped with federal loans and utterly committed to the urban centers in which they would open their little sites of hope, black franchise pioneers achieved remarkable success, and by the late 2000s, black-franchised McDonald's restaurants reported total sales exceeding $2 billion. Fast food represented an opportunity for strivers who had been shut out of many industries, denied promotions in those that would tolerate them, and discouraged, in numerous ways, from starting their own businesses, all because of the color of their skin. But a parallel story emerged, too—of wealth being extracted from black communities, of the ravages of fast food diets, of minumum wage jobs with little prospect for advancement.

Taking us from the first McDonald's drive-in in San Bernardino in the 1940s to civil rights protests at franchises in the American South in the 1960s and the McDonald's on Florissant Avenue in Ferguson in the summer 2014, Chatelain charts how the fight for racial justice is intertwined with the fate of black businesses. Deeply researched and brilliantly told, Franchise is an essential story of race and capitalism in America.

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About the Author-
  • Marcia Chatelain is a professor of history and African American studies at Georgetown University, and is a leading public voice on the history of race, education, and food culture. The author of South Side Girls, Chatelain lives in Washington, DC.
Reviews-
  • Kirkus

    October 15, 2019
    An exploration of the complicated role of fast-food restaurants in low-income black urban neighborhoods, with an emphasis on McDonald's. Though most of the book covers the 20th century, Chatelain (History and African American Studies/Georgetown Univ.; South Side Girls: Growing Up in the Great Migration, 2015) begins in August 2014, when a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, killed Michael Brown. The resulting unrest--some of it violent, some peaceful, all of it racially charged--took place in and around a McDonald's location owned by a black businessman. "The Florissant Avenue McDonald's," writes the author, "was both an escape from the uprising and one of its targets." Chatelain characterizes her book, in part, as "the story of how McDonald's became black." She makes a convincing case that racial tension, the civil rights movement, and fast food all combined to change the dynamic of mostly black communities ignored by white power structures. Fast food is generally unhealthy and can certainly lead to obesity. Chatelain realizes that low-income blacks are regularly demonized by whites for making poor nutritional choices. However, as she clearly explains, those apparent "choices" are not often real choices because residents lack access to supermarkets stocking healthy food offerings or eateries offering healthy, affordable menu items. "Today, fast-food restaurants are hyperconcentrated in the places that are the poorest and most racially segregated." As McDonald's became the dominant fast-food chain across the country, the white management began awarding franchises to black businesspeople. Almost never, however, did blacks receive locations in economically viable neighborhoods. Through case studies, with Cleveland as one extended example, Chatelain explores the relationships between black franchisees and black residents. In addition to nutritional value and the prices of menu items, the author also cogently examines franchisee support for neighborhood initiatives, such as breakfast feeding programs aimed at low-income children, financing of community centers, and the number of jobs, minimum wage or otherwise, for black residents. Chatelain's impressive research and her insertion of editorial commentary will prove educational and enlightening for readers of all backgrounds. An eye-opening and unique history lesson.

    COPYRIGHT(2019) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    November 1, 2019

    While other fast food companies make appearances, the primary focus of this book by Chatelain (history, African American Studies, Georgetown Univ.; South Side Girls) is the role of McDonald's in African American communities. The author describes the black businessmen and women who ran early franchisees and looks at their relationships with the company. The roles of fast food restaurants as employers, nutritional battlegrounds, sites of community activism, and charitable contributors are thoroughly explored, though at times the writing lacks narrative focus to tie together the details. The strongest chapters touch on the relationship between the civil rights movement and fast food, including sit-ins and boycotts, as well as the reasons some activists promoted franchising opportunities for black business leaders. The well-written conclusion emphasizes how today's conversations around fast food in America were shaped by government policies, and examines how the fast-food industry is connected to Black Lives Matter and other social change movements. VERDICT The book sticks close to its focus of franchising McDonald's restaurants among black communities in the 20th century, and covers the topic well. This niche subject may not have wide-ranging appeal, but the research is invaluable for those studying the intersections of race, economics, and business in the United States.--Sarah Schroeder, Univ. of Washington Bothell

    Copyright 2019 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    January 1, 2020
    The relationship between McDonald's, the undisputed champion in the fast food realm, and Black America has been complicated, even fraught. The company's marketing and outreach efforts have presented its business as responsive to the needs of Black communities contending with generational poverty and political disenfranchisement. Chatelain (South Side Girls, 2015) undercuts this narrative, however, by contextualizing, from an arguably Marxist perspective, the historical advantages that enabled McDonald's to rise above the competition, the charges of racist practices and exploitation that led Black communities to protest its presence in their neighborhoods, and its multigenerational campaign to repair its image, particularly in promoting Black franchises and supporting Black franchisees. But to what extend can African Americans participate in larger capitalist structures when they are so often derailed to protect the interests of predominantly white businesses? Furthermore, does economic stability necessarily translate into social and political power for Black communities? Chatelain doesn't flinch from addressing these difficult questions, and readers will be inspired to rethink the role of capitalism in black empowerment.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2020, American Library Association.)

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