Marcia Chatelain Awarded Prestigious Pulitzer Prize in History for Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America

headshot of Marcia Chatelain on brown background

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During the 105th Pulitzer Prize ceremony, Marcia Chatelain was chosen as this year’s winner in the category of history for her work, Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America. The Pulitzer Prize is given annually to 21 individuals who have displayed excellence in journalism and the arts.

“I’m incredibly humbled and shocked by this recognition – I had no idea that my book was under consideration,” says Chatelain. “I’m so grateful to all the students and colleagues who supported this work over the years, and I hope that this recognition encourages other historians to think seriously about the everyday aspects of our lives, like fast food, that can illustrate rich and important histories.”

Medals, McDonalds and Marcia

A professor in the Department of History and the Department of African American Studies, Chatelain is an expert in the fields of Black life and culture.

In her book Franchise, Chatelain meticulously researches the ways in which fast-food franchises like McDonald’s became one of the greatest generators of Black wealth in America through first-hand accounts and government documents. 

“Taking us from the first McDonald’s drive-in in San Bernardino in the 1940s to civil rights protests at franchises in the American South in the 1960s and the McDonald’s on Florissant Avenue in Ferguson in the summer 2014, Chatelain charts how the fight for racial justice is intertwined with the fate of Black businesses,” writes the Pulitzer Prize committee. “Deeply researched and brilliantly told, Franchise is an essential story of race and capitalism in America.”

Earlier this year, Franchise was chosen as the Organization of American Historians’ (OAH) 2021 Lawrence W. Levine Award winner. It was also selected as the winner of the 2021 Hagley Prize in Business History and named by New York Times critic Jenifer Szalai as Top Book of the Year in 2020. Now a Pulitzer Prize winner, the book has been given one of the most prestigious awards in the category of history.

“Marcia Chatelain’s impressive study and winner of the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in History, Franchise, has left an indelible mark on historical analysis, food studies, and Black studies,” says Soyica Colbert, dean of Georgetown College. “The award affirms the excellence and importance of Chatelain’s work.”

Chatelain is also the author of South Side Girls: Growing Up in the Great Migration. She has won several teaching awards at Georgetown, and has served on the working group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation. During the 2017–2018 academic year she was on leave as a National Endowment for the Humanities Faculty Fellow and was recently named an Andrew Carnegie Fellow. 

The professor has dedicated her life to chronicling the history of the Black community to give a more comprehensive understanding to the systems that shape our world and influence the current structures of society. Bryan McCann, chair of the history department, says that “this {award} is both wonderful and richly-deserved.” 

“Marcia’s book deftly explores the intersection of race, inequality, food and consumer capitalism in a sophisticated but accessible way,” he continues. “We are thrilled to see the Pulitzer committee recognize this achievement!”

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