Franchise ~ by Marcia Chatelain

Marcia Chatelain is a professor of sociology at Georgetown University where she specializes in Black history. This book won a Pulitzer in History in 2020 and is well worth the read – it is indeed very, very good.  

“This is the missing piece of the story of how race, civil rights, and hamburgers converged and changed everything. This is the story of how McDonald’s became black.” p 23

Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America
By Marcia Chatelain
2020 / 322 pages
Read by Machelle Williams 10h 37m
Rating: 9.25 / Business & Black America 

McDonald’s is a big subject, it’s been around since 1940, that’s almost 100 years, and includes everything from nutrition to business practices and the environment, but the subject of McDonald’s also includes the social sciences, history, economics, politics and racist policies. When I was in college in the early 1970s, our professor told my sociology class that “Driving into McDonald’s is like driving into America.”  And I understood what she meant. But that was back in 1970 or so. 

Chatelain goes through a brief history of McDonald’s starting with the drive-in located in San Bernardino but skims to focus on the last 50+ years, since the first black franchise opened. So for the bulk of the book she shows that all those aspects are deeply intertwined, for better as well as for worse. which was attracting ethnically diverse neighborhoods after WWII and covering the material up through the aftermath of Fergusson’s troubles.

But although it covers all those things – it’s really about what the title says it’s about: “Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America.”

It’s about blacks buying McDonald’s franchises and trying to make it into mainstream America bringing a piece of the inner city with them. It’s about food and nutrition, it’s about jobs for high school boys,  it’s about bad and changing neighborhoods.  It’s about racism and politics and clean air.  In other words,  it’s about money, “black capitalism.” That used to be a really progressive slogan but now? Not so much.  

Since the 1950s, and Ray Kroc in 1961, McDonald’s has been organized around the concept and practice of the franchise. Kroc moved the headquarters to Chicago shortly after he purchased the business. After Martin Luther King’s death and the following riots in 1968 white franchees seemed to want out. so McDonald’s decided to recruit black franchisees for predominantly black communities.  And they all learned and they all grew, thanks to this “experiment.”   

And that’s the main point of the book, “Franchise.”  These businesses were seen as a way for blacks to enter the economic mainstream of America.  And although there are some digressions, because McDonald’s franchises are involved in a lot of things,  the main thrust of the work is the idea of chain fast food restaurants in poverty stricken black areas. 

Meanwhile advertising and marketing caught on to the idea that there was a growing market of upwardly mobile black consumers.   

“Black people are not dark-skinned white people,”-  Tom Burrell (1st black advertising executive in the US – Burrell Communications)   

And the project grew but there were a few unhappy black franchisees and then there were a few bad apples in the bunch and then Jesse Jackson, there were lawsuits.

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