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The Surprising History of McDonald’s and the Civil Rights Movement: Marcia Chatelain's Latest Book Reviewed

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tags: civil rights, books, African American history, McDonalds



Say the name McDonald’s, and what comes to mind? Tasty hamburgers or hardened arteries? Entry-level jobs or dead-end McJobs? Responsive community outreach or mercenary corporate power?

In “Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America,” Marcia Chatelain has written a smart and capacious history suggesting that McDonald’s should summon all of those thoughts, and then some.

The cover image on her book encapsulates the multiple layers of the story she tells. On first glance it simply looks like a photograph of two people smiling in front of a McDonald’s as one helps the other register to vote, but on closer inspection the picture has been manipulated to look grainy and frayed. The history in this book is similarly hopeful and fraught, recounting a “somewhat bizarre but incredibly powerful marriage between a fast-food behemoth and the fight for civil rights.”

Fast food is now so cheap and readily available that its consumption is associated more with straitened circumstances than with affluent ones, but that wasn’t always the case. Chatelain, a history professor at Georgetown and the author of “South Side Girls,” about the experiences of black girls in Chicago during the Great Migration, recalls the early days of restaurant franchising in the 1940s and ’50s, when fast-food chains emerged as emissaries of the American dream — with all the complexities of race and money that entailed.

Read entire article at NY Times

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