Often blamed for the rising rates of obesity and diabetes among black Americans, fast food restaurants like McDonald’s have long symbolized capitalism’s villainous effects on our nation’s most vulnerable communities. But how did fast food restaurants so thoroughly saturate black neighborhoods in the first place? In “Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America,” acclaimed historian Marcia Chatelain uncovers a surprising history of cooperation among fast food companies, black capitalists, and civil rights leaders, who—in the troubled years after King’s assassination—believed they found an economic answer to the problem of racial inequality. With the discourse of social welfare all but evaporated, federal programs under presidents Johnson and Nixon promoted a new vision for racial justice: that the franchising of fast food restaurants, by black citizens in their own neighborhoods, could finally improve the quality of black life. Synthesizing years of research, “Franchise” tells a troubling success story of an industry that blossomed the very moment a freedom movement began to wither.
Marcia Chatelain is a scholar, speaker, and strategist based in Washington, D.C. She teaches courses in African American life and culture at Georgetown University. When she’s not in the classroom, she’s on the road, talking to audiences about our nation’s pressing and pervasive social issues, including racism, universities and the history of slavery, as well as activist movements.