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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.
Long gone are the days when a business could simply set up a shop and go about their way towards making profits, especially if you are a large corporation. Ms. Chatelain’s book does a nice job of explaining the social changes McDonald’s had to address involving blacks while their company grew. ‘Franchise’ gives a unique perspective about a complex issue. Without question, McDonald’s is an American success story. The book tells about the McDonald brother’s business efforts before coming up with their restaurant model that also gave birth to countless copycats. It also explains how Ray Kroc wrestled the small business from the brothers and went much further with the burger business. The staunch conservative Mr. Kroc was purely focused on increasing revenue and only got involved in black demands because of profit concerns.
Ms. Chatelain shows how pushback came not only from blacks but also whites. The Jim Crow South was especially stubborn in not allowing African Americans full or even minor access to their restaurants. Readers will get a broader understanding of the frustrations and danger that blacks faced on a daily basis. ‘Franchise’ addresses such things as black urban poverty and the hopes of empowerment for blacks in owning fast-food businesses; blacks’ segregation from prosperity; the effectiveness of demonstrations; changing demographics; discrimination within corporate America; feeble government black urban programs that were simply window dressing and political photo opportunities; the various perspectives of racial justice; economic disenfranchisement; environmental activism; community control; housing and business discrimination; black nationalism shooting itself in the foot; tokenism; and health concerns. The author highlights episodes in Chicago, Cleveland, Pine Bluff (Arkansas), Portland (Oregon), Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. Street gangs and community activism play pronounced roles in the destitute urban zones mentioned. Opening up a McDonald’s in some of these areas required a tremendous work ethic, political savvy, and brass balls the size of those inflatable bouncy seats. ‘Franchise’ shows McDonald’s as well as the rest of the fast food industry adapted with mixed results as blacks attained more civil rights and began demanding much warranted attention about their generations of oppression and neglect.
‘Franchise’ is solid balanced reporting. Ms. Chatelain presents persuasive arguments on both sides of the numerous debates in the book. Much like sexual hanky-panky, she aptly writes, “Fast food is about more than just food. Consumers make marketplace choices based on a constellation of emotions, past experiences, memories, desires, and actual hunger.” While McDonald’s is at the center of the discussion about relations with African-American communities, ‘Franchise’ makes solid points about the broader factors causing such strong black reactions. Racial stereotypes, racism, and urban neglect are at the core of the book. Black urban poverty is still very much with us today and, despite all the gasbag politicians’ celebrating otherwise, fast food joints are not the capitalistic panacea for correcting generations of urban segregation and prejudice. They are simply a crumb in the bucket of KFC chicken.
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.
It is one of the selections in my book club. The history and detail in it are compelling. It is not the best writing in the world, as it is fact after fact put together with skill. I'd like a few critical questions put in, or discussions of whether this pattern of franchising that affects poor and minority people will simply continue, because it makes money. SOme of the history in the book, I'd forgotten about and it stimulated me to think more about what I remember.
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.