Chapter 1: Fast Food Civil Rights

Today, McDonald’s has flooded every corner of the world with inexpensive fast food. But what is the untold story behind this legendary food chain? In a highly narrative tone, Marcia Chatelain paints the painful reality of the racial inequality and the fight for rights that dominated in mid-century America. Chapter 1 tells the success story of how McDonald’s can be a “reliable mirror” of many Americans. The author demonstrates how McDonald’s legacy was dependent on systems that denied African Americans routes to social mobility and equal rights. She starts off by describing how Okura established a museum in 1998 to act as a shrine to mid-century America and a tribute to McDonald’s founders, Maurice and Richard McDonald.


The museum’s richness in artifacts, however, is stifled by its untold story of how race, civil rights, and hamburgers changed McDonald’s to become black. In a subtly empathetic tone, Chatelain details how blacks and Mexican Americans were excluded from mid-century America. From being discriminated against in military and manufacturing opportunities to exclusion from labor unions and car ownerships, to being presented to try clothes in segregated stores to the Green book that listed indiscriminatory venues, the chapter demonstrates in impeccable detail how equal opportunity was nowhere to be seen. Chatelain goes into great depths to demonstrate the social alienation that blacks suffered from. Up until the early 1960s, even after Ray Kroc assumed leadership of McDonald’s and franchises were opened in black neighborhoods in Chicago, McDonald’s was not race-neutral.


The chapter portrays a captivating picture of the Greensboro sit-in as a generative early move against segregation. Yet, McDonald’s and other fast food chains still maintained their segregation policy. It was not until 1963 when Pine Bluff protests presented a turning moment in McDonald’s history of segregation. A few years later, McDonald’s made a significant move towards desegregation by employing the very first black franchise owner.