James F. Byrd, Jr. with Ronald McDonald at Collierville opening, 2015.

By Tony Jones

MEMPHIS, TN — A call-to-action rally at the National Civil Rights Museum (NCRM) Tuesday, March 2nd moved next to Nashville and Atlanta to bring attention to a nationwide protest tour calling attention to a class action lawsuit suit challenging how the McDonald’s Corporation treats its black franchise owners.

Created by  McDonald franchisee sibling team Darrell and James  F. Byrd Jr., Memphis was the second stop for a 90 day “rolling protest” tour the brothers are conducting to create a nationwide front to generate awareness of collective legal actions and their own plight claiming the global fast-food giant’s corporate policies slashed black franchisee numbers in half by forcing them to operate stores in the worst areas with stricter guidelines and highest cost levels, while simultaneously redlining them from expanding to higher volume premium locations. 

To date, 77 current and former black franchisers are joined in the suit. The public drive was named “Don’t Be McFooled” by Chicago based activist Wallace “Gator” Bradley, Founder and President of United In Peace, Inc. for the protest’s launch Feb. 22nd in front of McDonald’s worldwide headquarters there.

Filed in the United States District Court For The Northern District Of Illinois Eastern Division, James and Darrell Byrd Et Al v. McDonald’s Et Al, the stop at the site of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. underlined the state’s importance for their message. Once owners of 14 McDonald’s restaurants throughout the state, they are down to 4, located in Memphis, Collierville, Arlington and Somerville. Their suit alleges that the yearly average of the McDonald’s Nashville footprint is the perfect example of the charges they are leveling.

“The number of Black franchisees has been slashed to only 186 nationwide, down from a high

of 377 in 1998,” the Byrds’ filing states. “The McDonald’s Nashville Region has the nation’s highest cash flow disparity between White and Black franchisees, ($134,000.00 per store; One Hundred Thirty-Four Thousand Dollars Per Store)” Furthermore, “There is only one (1) remaining Black franchisee (James F. Byrd, Jr.) in all of Memphis, a town nearly 65 percent (%) Black (Metropolitan Population 1,150,000; Tennessee’s 2nd Largest City & 43rd Largest in the United States of America).”

A prior filing led as a whistleblower for theirs: “We were unaware of the widespread nature of the discrimination until two (2) senior McDonald’s executives came forward on January 7, 2020, with troubling details about ways the company routinely forces Black operators out (Victoria Guster-Hines and Dominica Neal vs McDonald’s Et Al, United States District Court For The Northern District Of Illinois Eastern Division). This all occurred while McDonald’s was polishing its image as a friend of the Black entrepreneurs, Black consumers, Black charities, Black Politicians, Black churches and HBCUs.”

The suit alleges it all adds up to a clear discriminatory pattern. “McDonald’s can force us out at any time and gets to keep the improved store, the real estate and the equity.”

The Byrds feel they must drum up support to back their suggestion that McDonald’s pump a minimum of $500 million into a new base of franchisees, bring the Black owner base back to 377, and loosen the regulations and inspections they claim are used to break franchise agreements.

In a statement on their behalf, Kahari Nash, the lead organizer of the historic suit said, “It was a heartfelt moment to see our Chicago activist family bring their support to the Byrd Brothers in the Bluff City. We’re going to stand shoulder to shoulder and back-to-back until we break McDonald’s back and the stranglehold systematic racism has on the Black community locally, nationally and internationally. I’m calling on Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), Chair House Financial Services Committee, to call a congressional hearing on systematic racism and subpoena Chris Kempczinski, McDonald’s CEO; Joe Erlinger, President McDonald’s USA; John Rogers, Co-CEO Ariel Investments and McDonald’s Board Member and Henrique Hernandez, Chairman McDonald’s Board, as well as McDonald’s National and Regional Lenders.”

Immediately responding to an email request, McDonald’s media office forwarded this response by Reggie Miller, Global Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer (DEI). 

“McDonald’s takes it commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion seriously and does not tolerate discrimination of any kind. We are working towards our recent DEI goals and continue to drive equitable opportunity under the Arches. We must go further and remain focused on serious action to accelerate meaningful and overdue societal change.”

They additionally stated, “In 2020, CEO Chris Kempczinski led the company in a refresh and recommitment to values, and established a global advisory council on diversity, equity and inclusion with leaders across the globe to ensure accountability for everyone who works under the Arches.

And, “We also re-imagined the role of the Global Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer to focus on our global business strategy…Reggie Miller, who joined in 2020, is working alongside Chris and senior leadership to bring this ambition to life. Reggie is expanding his team and creating new positions.”

The email also included a bullet point synopsis of several initiatives such as “increase women in leadership roles, Sr. Director and above, from 37% to 45% by the end of 2025, with a goal of reaching gender parity by the end of 2030.”

How that will be reflected in ownership parity lies at the heart of the matter. According to the National Black McDonald’s Operators Association, 30 percent of McDonald’s gross sales comes from the Black community. 

State Sen. Joe Towns, Jr. (D-84) meets with the Byrds’ team every week, and is currently finalizing a HBCU blitz at Fisk, Meharry and TSU.

“I was made aware of their issue several months ago. I think we need put pressure on anyone that is discriminating against black owned businesses and not treating our people fairly.  I wrote our Secretary of State to request the state divest in McDonald’s. I am involved from a civic standpoint, a from a businessman’s standpoint and an elected official’s standpoint, I am going to stick with them all the way. At the end of the day if the math does not add up in the franchisees favor it’s a bad deal.”

On Friday, March 12, they will be joining the Tribute to McDonald’s All American Game Finalists NIBC Finalists (National Interscholastic Basketball Conference) at Arlington High School.  

The protest tour then resumes Thursday, April 1st, 2021 at McDonald’s Atlanta Regional Office, 1 Glenlake Parkway, Suite 500, beginning at 11 a.m.

Concludes plan organizer Nash, “We, Black America, delivered the vote for President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the Congressional Democrats and the Congressional Black Caucus. It’s time for the Congressional Democratic majority to deliver for Black America.”