Author Talk: Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America

Presented on: December 16th at 1:00 PM EST




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Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America is the winner of the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in History, the winner of the Hagley Prize in Business History, the winner of the 2021 Organization of American Historians Lawrence W. Levine Award, and was named one of the top books of 2020 by Smithsonian scholars. 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, 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 Professor of History and African American Studies at Georgetown University. The author of South Side Girls: Growing up in the Great Migration (Duke University Press, 2015) she teaches about women’s and girls’ history, as well as black capitalism. Her latest book, Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America (Liveright Publishing Co./W.W. Norton, 2020) examines the intricate relationship among African American politicians, civil rights organizations, communities, and the fast-food industry. In 2021, Chatelain received the Pulitzer Prize in History, the Hagley Prize in Business History, and the Organization of American Historians (OAH) Lawrence W. Levine Award for Franchise. An active public speaker and educational consultant, Chatelain has received awards and honors from the Ford Foundation, the American Association of University Women, and the German Marshall Fund of the United States. At Georgetown, she has won several teaching awards. In 2016, the Chronicle of Higher Education named her a Top Influencer in academia in recognition of her social media campaign #FergusonSyllabus, which implored educators to facilitate discussions about the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. She has held an Eric and Wendy Schmidt Fellowship at New America, a National Endowment for the Humanities Faculty Fellowship, and an Andrew Carnegie Fellowship.