The first, and one of the most threatening, took place in Cleveland in 1968 when McDonald’s came under bitter attack from a loose coalition of black activist groups led by a militant named David Hill. McDonald’s had already begun a nationwide search for its first black franchisees, but that effort was initially unsuccessful, and McDonald’s had franchised only four units to blacks when Hill called for a boycott of McDonald’s in Cleveland. Before the chain had time to react, hundreds of black demonstrators were picketing the six white owned McDonald’s on the town’s predominately black East Side.
It was the worst time and the worst place for McDonald’s to become involved in a racial controversy. Martin Luther King Jr. had just been assassinated, and Cleveland was one of the most racially divided cities in the country. It had elected the first big city black mayor, Carl Stokes, but rather than ease racial tensions, Stokes mayoralty aroused them. Stokes had courted the support of the Black Panthers and other militant groups and in so doing had fanned the fires of prejudice that burned in the hearts of thousands of politically active residents on the town’s mostly white West Side.
The city was racially split- East Side against West Side – and McDonald’s became one of the first victims of that division. Hill and the other black groups refused to remove their pickets until McDonald’s removed the white franchisees from the six black neighborhood stores. The pickets became violent, intimidating patrons by carrying night sticks and wearing ammunition belts and eventually by hurling rocks through store windows, and escalation that forced McDonald’s temporarily to take of the operation of the stores. The company brought in experienced managers from its newly acquired 43-restaurant Gee Gee operation in Washington to run the six Cleveland units and relieve the besieged franchisees.
Bob Beavers, the veteran black corporate manager from Washington whom McDonald’s selected to supervise the reopening, might well have qualified for battle pay. To prevent a riot, the police had pulled back from the pickets, and before he entered the area of his first unit, Beavers got some frightening advice from a white Cleveland police sergeant. “I suggest that you change your hotel and change your name,” the sergeant told him. Then, to Beaver’s astonishment, the officer handed him a revolver. “If you have to use this,” he told Beavers, “shoot to kill.”
McDonald’s quickly began negotiating with the black coalition but even those talks took place in an environment of intimidation.
Carl Stokes had provided an office at City Hall for a negotiating session between McDonald’s corporate managers and representative of the black groups, but that turned out to be something less than neutral turf. When Ed Blood, McDonald’s vice president of franchising, showed up at the meeting two doors down the hall from the mayor’s office, he was greeted at the door by “guard” from the coalition forces wearing bandoliers. Hill and the other militants at the meeting demanded that they be appointed agents of McDonald’s to supervise the selection of black franchisees for the stores. While Blood – supported by all of the white licensees involved – agreed to refranchise the stores to blacks, he rejected Hill’s terms. Only later did he realize how menacing the meeting was: one of the coalition representatives sitting across from him was holding a gun under the table.
Only when Dr. Kenneth Clement, a black physician, publicly called the boycott a “shakedown” did the tide turn in McDonald’s favor. Clement was the genius behind the campaign to elect Stokes, but following the election he broke with the mayor. Not long after Clement spoke out, the boycott of the McDonald’s units ended, and black franchisees were soon found for all six restaurants. Clement’s description of the boycott seems to have been justified. Hill was later convicted of blackmail stemming from his efforts to force the sale of McDonald’s restaurants in Cleveland to blacks, and was later a fugitive living in Guyana.
This story symbolizes the reality of Black-Run America (BRA): the post-1964 Civil Rights world has been one where Black people have had the go-ahead to "shakedown" every segment of American society without any repercussions.
Not only has McDonald's been 365Black since 1968; so has the United States of America