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I enjoyed reading this. The author admits in the Acknowledgements that she essentially grew up at McDonalds. If you want the story of how fast food, and McDonalds in particular, came of age inside the black neighborhoods of America, look no further, you’ve picked up the right book, written by the right author.
Or have you?
On the plus side, you get the history of all boycotts, profiles of several franchisees, the role played by all prominent leaders of the civil rights movement, the victories and the price of the victories.
The author takes you from what she calls “Genesis” in St. Bernardino, CA, all the way to the present time, via the speech Martin Luther King gave days before his assassination regarding how “civil rights” should give their place to “silver rights” the very same year as Herman Petty opened the first black-owned McDonalds’ franchise.
You get chapter and verse on • the Hough Uprising as a preamble to Operation Black Unity’s McDonald’s boycott in mayor Carl Stokes’ Cleveland, • the Black Panthers’ alleged blackmailing of white franchisee Al Laviske’s to contribute to their Free Breakfast for Schoolchildren in the Albina neighborhood of Portland, Oregon, which ended up with riots and bombing • the Ogontz Neighbor Association’s resistance to the establishment of a white-owned McDonalds’ restaurant in 1970 North Philadelphia
but also on the extension of Hamburger University to the South Side of Chicago, the successful efforts of the National Black McDonald’s Operators Association to bring ownership of franchises to black businessmen, the ingenuity of Tom Burrell in promoting McDonalds to a black audience and the irony in (racist) Nixon’s “bridges to human dignity” speech, which hardly differed in message from the tropes emanating from Jessie Jackson and Louis Farrakhan, if not from the admonishments issued by George Schuyler (p. 150)
Ultimately, however, the book lacks a clear message. The history is there, and this is a great place to read it, but should somebody ask me “what was the main idea of this book?” or “what do you think prompted the author to write this history?” I would be at a loss.
Most importantly, I did not get a sense of whether the author believes the Golden Arches were a force for good or not.
I thought the concluding chapter, the one where Marcia Chatelain gets a chance to reflect, would at the very least mention that from 2012 to 2015 McDonalds would have in Don Thompson its first black CEO. Not that this would erase a history of racism, not that everything is best in this best of possible worlds, but that hard work and determination is still helping black America reach milestone after milestone on a voyage that started with slavery and will eventually lead to full equality. Instead, I got some Naomi Klein mumbo jumbo.
Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America is a surprising study of how McDonald's restaurants assisted black entrepreneurs. It is written by a fine historian of the black experience, Marcia Chatelaine, a professor in the History Department at Georgetown University. It is a well-written narrative that will attract general readers as well as historians of American cultural studies.
Excellent story of the American black movement into McDonald's, as customers, franchisees, and advertising professionals. My husband played an important role in this history and found the book factual and interesting.
She has researched and presented this topic thoroughly. Maybe it’s just my personal experience, but I was unaware of the role that fast food, specifically McDonalds, has played in the overall economic experience of its customers. Which is most people in the US and a sizable percentage of the world at large. It is not a quick read nor an easy read, but definitely worthwhile.