How fast food “became black”

January 10, 2020

When Marcia Chatelain was a teen in the 1990s, her after-school pit stop was a downtown Chicago McDonald’s. Almost daily, she hung out with friends, buying burgers, fries, and pocket-size apple pies. She snacked against a backdrop of black history brochures, prints of famous Jacob Lawrence paintings, and community events such as a local quiz bowl.

It wasn’t until decades later that Chatelain, now a history professor at Georgetown University, learned that those touches in her beloved McDonald’s came from a black entrepreneur who operated that store. And now, as a scholar, Chatelain explains how that McDonald’s she patronized — and many other fast-food restaurants — were the fruit of corporate expansion, cultural and population shifts, and the restaurant’s “discovery” that black consumers and businesspeople could deliver precious profits to the Golden Arches.

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