Chapter 4: Bending the Golden Arches


In her thought-provoking book titled Franchise, Marcia Chatelain comprehensively discusses a neglected but significant history of how the franchise giant McDonald’s encroached into the poorest and segregated African American neighborhoods. Although the franchise business model was federally supported by the national leaders Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon as a remedy to improve the economic prospect in these communities, and hailed by some black community leaders for the same reason, this model not only perpetuated social, economic and racial injustices but also lead to deleterious health repercussions for black Americans. Chapter 4 – Bending the Golden Arches focuses on 1960s, a crucial temporal domain in the twentieth century of black Americans. Long-denied basic citizenship and political rights, African Americans were granted the vote thanks to the revolutionary Civil Rights Movements and Voting Rights Act in the mid-1960s. Nevertheless, this formal political inclusion did not guarantee the economic inclusion of African Americans and the redistribution of material resources for this group which perpetuated their economic marginalization. 


McDonald’s denied serving African Americans on an equal basis in the pre-civil rights movement period. However, its franchising model was promoted by the federal leaders and some of the civil rights movement activists as the solution to the economic hardship of black communities. McDonald’s massively expanded their operations in economically underserved and racially segregated communities. However, this encroachment created a deep controversy among black community members with regards to whether the business model would provide a real solution to black poverty and act in a compatible way with the authentic values of black communities. Marcia Chatelain provides a detailed description of several instances throughout the nation where local communities resisted. The Black Panthers, a black nationalist political organization, was organizing a community program of a free breakfast for school children facing severe problems of hunger thereby contributing to their academic achievements. When the McDonald’s owners rejected to contribute this program in Albina Portland in 1970, the first visible tension between McDonald’s and the Black Panthers emerged. Additionally, the collaboration between the McDonalds’ owners and local police officers in suppressing Black Panthers’ protesters escalated the tension, which was exacerbated by McDonald’s manipulation of labor laws and employment of non-unionized workers.


Thousands of miles away, the struggle against McDonald’s took a multiracial and multiclass form in Ogontz, Philadelphia. Local anti-fast food movement complained about the negative social, economic, and environmental effects. Economically, only 17% of the revenue stayed in the area while 83% went to McDonald’s headquarter in Chicago. Socially, these fast food restaurants perpetuated child crime and significantly increased the local traffic. Environmentally, it put an extra burden on waste management due to the huge increase in the usage of non-disposable materials. Despite Ogontz Neighborhood Association sustaining collective effort to put the local communities’ needs first, they could only delay, but could not prevent the construction of the McDonald’s. This was an evidence of the indifference of local authorities to the demands of the local public when it is largely made up of Blacks. In a few decades after McDonald’s finally received permission to open a new restaurant, however, the public mood towards the company became much more favorable.


While the McDonald’s controversy was engulfing the local politics in Portland and Philadelphia, Atlanta became another space of contestation. Bond, Thomas, and Reed founded a new interracial enterprise and invested in a fast-food franchise business named Dairy Queen to achieve racial and economic justices in Atlanta. However, the black community did not buy this business model after a short time. The failure of this multiracial franchising attempt in Atlanta was manipulated by some conservative pundits as evidence of a growing anti-white feeling among black people.


In conclusion, Marcia Chatelain greatly captures the connection between the local black resistance against McDonald’s and broader socio-economic discussions taking place in the nation as summarized in the following quote:

From Portland to Philadelphia to Atlanta, the fast food resistance movement took many forms, and taken together, it is clear that fast food’s attempt to colonize black America was not unchallenged. Opposition to fast food was not solely about the industry itself, but rather who was profiting from it (p.158). 


Black resistance to franchising enterprises, which expanded their reach towards poorer black communities, turned out to be an unexpected chapter in the black struggle with the legacies of racism and discrimination. While trying to enhance their local community development, black people initiated resistance against white capitalism which reproduce the status quo by profiting from these communities without offering little economic return and job prospects.




Additional Resource:

The Black Panther Party –  Free breakfast for children program