Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America
This incisive study from historian and African American studies professor Marcia Chatelain (South Side Girls) takes shrewd advantage of the dual meaning of its one-word title. As she surveys the fascinating history of McDonald's and other fast-food restaurants' booming expansion into black neighborhoods in the 1960s and '70s, Chatelain illuminates the connection between hamburger franchises and the greater cultural work of enfranchisement.
Key chapters center on McDonald's recruitment of black franchise owners following Martin Luther King's assassination, to serve as the face of the company in black neighborhoods--and to take advantage of government programs encouraging black enterprise. Those efforts play out against tense boycotts in Cleveland and Portland, where community leaders press for a role in determining local ownership and for greater McDonald's civic engagement. Tellingly, when the earliest black McDonald's franchisees organized the National Black McDonald's Operators Association, in 1972, franchisee Herman Petty had to reassure the company that this was not "a militant organization."
Chatelain teases out the tensions that have shaped America's streets and diets: between corporate power and community needs; between individual opportunity and the collective damage fast food has done to customers' health; between restaurants that serve as de facto community centers and the fact that they send most of their profits out of town. Chatelain bookends Franchise with arresting accounts of McDonald's restaurants as safe havens during unrest in Ferguson, Mo., and the Los Angeles uprising of 1992; especially revealing is her nuanced exploration of McDonald's advertising targeting black Americans. --Alan Scherstuhl, freelance writer and editor