Marcia Chatelain Receives 2021 Lawrence W. Levine Award from the Organization of American Historians

Marcia Chatelain headshot against brown background

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Marcia Chatelain, professor in the Department of History and the Department of African American Studies, is the recipient of the Organization of American Historians’ (OAH) 2021 Lawrence W. Levine Award for her book Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America. This award is given annually for the best book in American cultural history.  

“Recognition like this from scholars I admire and respect means the world to me, because I wanted to produce a piece of history that takes seriously the experiences of everyday people,” Chatelain says. “Lawrence Levine was dedicated to challenging ideas about whose history and whose stories matter. I am so honored to receive an award named after a scholar whose work shaped my early graduate school years.”

Franchise (W.W. Norton & Company, 2020) explores the rich history at the intersection of fast food, civil rights, health and politics while examining both the positive and negative effects of the fast-food industry on communities of color.

The book was described by OAH as “a deeply researched exploration of the role of McDonald’s in post-1960s urban Black America. Rigorous and empathetic, this beautifully written book is a model for the future of Levine-style cultural history.”

“Chatelain tracks the sometimes surprising connections between fast food and the civil rights movement, exploring the franchise as both an effective strategy of Black capitalism and a means to extract wealth from Black communities,” OAH writes. “Looking at its material benefits and limitations, she tells a nuanced story of remarkable successes, of predation, of health disparities and of the power of Black consumers in this period. Franchise is, in the end, about the construction of potent and ubiquitous elements of systemic racism in the American landscape and the push back against them.”

Franchise 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.  

Chatelain, who also wrote South Side Girls: Growing Up in the Great Migration, is a scholar of African American life and culture. In addition to her impressive academic work, she also delivers lectures and workshops on inclusive teaching, social movements and food justice on and off Georgetown’s campus. 

Franchise is very much a reflection of how I’ve grown as a scholar during my time at Georgetown, and a large part of that is being able to teach and supervise undergraduate and graduate research,” Chatelain says.  

About the Organization of American Historians

The Organization of American Historians was founded in 1907 and is the largest professional organization dedicated to the teaching and study of American history. The mission of the OAH is to promote excellence in the scholarship, teaching and presentation of American history, and to encourage informed public discussion of and engagement with historical questions. The mission of the OAH is guided by the principles of the advancement of scholarship, historical advocacy, and professional integrity. The OAH national headquarters are located in the historic Raintree House on Indiana University’s Bloomington campus.

For the full list of OAH 2021 book award and prize recipients, please visit the OAH website.