Golden Arches: New Book Explores McDonald’s, Civil Rights and Politics

Marcia Chatelain

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January 10, 2020 – Department of History professor Marcia Chatelain, Provost’s Distinguished Associate Professor and author of South Side Girls: Growing Up in the Great Migration (2015), published her latest work Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America. This book explores the rich history at the intersection of fast food, civil rights and politics and dives into the origins of our nation’s health issues that persist today.

Fast Food, Long History

Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America
Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America

In her book, Chatelain outlines how fast food chains shifted to urban areas in the 1960s where before they had predominantly existed in the suburbs. This was due to efforts by large chains such as McDonald’s recruiting African American owned franchises after white owned franchises were left abandoned during the riots in the aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

Chatelain thoroughly describes the variety of opinions and conflicts that arose in response to these actions, and details how the consequences of these actions are still felt in society. She draws from first-hand accounts of those who lived through this time period, as well as historical documentation that demonstrate the complexities of the subject matter.

“This book was a real labor of love for me because it allowed me to join my many interests—African American history, food studies, and writing the stories of poor people contending with constrained or limited choices,” says Chatelain.  “I’m so grateful to the many Georgetown undergraduates and graduate students who have helped me and encouraged me as I conducted research for the books, as well as my faculty colleagues for reading some of the early material for the book and writing me letters of recommendation for grants and fellowships.”

Though Franchise is work of meticulous non-fiction, Chatelain is careful to never forget the human element in history, even mentioning her own experiences with fast food. Chatelain instead invites the reader to be critical of the non-human factors at play.

“Ultimately, I hope my book helps everyone be more compassionate toward people and individuals who are judged harshly for eating fast food and to turn their attention toward the structural failures that have allowed fast food to have such a huge impact on people’s lives,” says Chatelain.

Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America has already received several glowing reviews including The New York Times.

About Chatelain

In addition to her two books, Chatelain has contributed to TheAtlantic.com, Time.com, and Ms. Magazine. She has also written for the Chronicle of Higher Education which named her a “Top Influencer in Higher Education” in 2016. 

Chatelain has served on Georgetown’s Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation. She has appeared on local and national television outlets including C-Span, MSNBC, CNN, BBC America, and PBS. In 2019 she appeared on the Stanley Nelson documentary, “ Boss: The Black Experience in Business.” In the 2017-2018 academic year she was on leave as a National Endowment for the Humanities Faculty Fellow. She was recently named an Andrew Carnegie Fellow and has been awarded an Eric and Wendy Schmidt Fellow at the New America Foundation. 

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