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BNH Book Review: Golden Arches in Black America

Published Friday Sep 4, 2020

Author Terri Schlichenmeyer of The Bookworm Sez

“Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America”
 by Marcia Chatelain
$28.95/336 pages

McDonald’s “has affected the ways Americans eat, play, and work,” says Marcia Chatelain in “Franchise.” The restaurant also affected the Civil Rights movement and vice versa.

In 1961, after Ray Kroc assumed control of the chain he created, he began flying around the country in search of places to expand. The idea of a restaurant that served everyone, regardless of race, intrigued African American southerners who were living under Jim Crow laws. When McDonald’s moved to their areas, segregation was in effect but the Civil Rights movement was coming, along with protests and sit-ins. Kroc tended not to get involved, preferring that franchisees deal with situations on their own.

By spring of 1968, that was no longer tenable. White-owned restaurants were an “irritation” in Black neighborhoods and after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, resentment boiled over. Kroc decided that it was best to find black franchisees to assume ownership of restaurants in those areas. By the end of that year, Herman Petty of Chicago opened the first Black-owned McDonald’s location.

Chatelain uses “Franchise” to focus mostly on a history of the chain  and its business relationship with the Black community. It’s a 60-year account that’s tasty, but there’s not always a happy story to go along with the Happy Meal. It’s a tale of unknowns who are usually unsung, and some that are total surprises; Chatelain also examines oft-told Civil Rights stories as they relate to the McDonald’s chain, showing history from a different spot at the table. This is not your run-of-the-mill business book, nor is it an everyday history read. It’s a little of both, and worth a look.

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