‘Aunt Jemima’s’ Great-Grandson Calls Out Brand For Trying To ‘Erase’ Her

Creative & Inspiring Dec 05, 2023

In 2020, Quaker Oats received applause for deciding to rebrand its Aunt Jemima line, known for its pancake mix and maple syrup. However, the descendants of the real woman who inspired the brand criticized this move, labeling it as an “injustice” that contributes to erasing Black history.

Following the acknowledgment that “Aunt Jemima’s origins are rooted in a racial stereotype,” Quaker Oats announced on June 17, 2020, its intention to change the name and branding of its Aunt Jemima breakfast products, as reported by NBC News. A company representative further commented:

We need to thoroughly review our lineup of brands to ensure they mirror our values and meet the standards our customers expect. This is crucial as we strive to promote racial equality through various initiatives.

The Aunt Jemima brand was launched by The Pearl Milling Company in 1888, showcasing a pancake mix touted as the inaugural “ready-mix” food item. However, its visual portrayal was rooted in the Southern “mammy” stereotype. To modernize and show sensitivity to the era’s connotations linked to the Jim Crow period, the corporation made efforts to “update” and be more “appropriate and respectful” in its representations.

In February 2021, CNN reported that the name would be altered to Pearl Milling Company, and the imagery, which had faced prolonged criticism as a racist depiction of a Black woman originating from the era of slavery, would be removed.

Not only did some groups praise this action, but it also motivated other companies to follow suit. Mrs. Butterworth’s revamped its packaging, altering its appearance. Likewise, Uncle Ben’s, a rice product with comparable iconography on its packaging, declared its intention to undergo a transformation, changing its name to Ben’s Original.

However, some critics have voiced their disapproval, arguing that these changes don’t contribute to aiding the Black community and merely result in erasing a painful yet significant part of history.

One day following Quaker Oats’ announcement in 2020, Larnell Evans Sr., the great-grandson of a woman who had portrayed Aunt Jemima, expressed to Patch that the redesign was an affront to his ancestors’ legacy and to the Black community.

“This is unjust to my family and me. It’s connected to my history. They employ images from slavery to depict racism as something attributed to white people, not Black individuals. This company profits from portraying our history of servitude. By erasing my great-grandmother’s past as a woman of color, they’ve caused me significant pain,” he expressed.

“How many white folks grew up watching cartoons featuring Aunt Jemima at breakfast every day? How many white firms made all their money and gave us nothing in return? I believe they ought to examine it. They can’t simply eradicate it while we continue to endure suffering,” he stated.

After making all that money, Evans argued, “are they just going to rewrite history like it didn’t happen? … They won’t offer us anything, will they? What gives them this authority?”

Nancy Green, a chef who had experienced slavery, portrayed the original Aunt Jemima. She continued as its mascot until her passing in 1923. Evans’ great-grandmother, Anna Short Harrington, and Lillian Richard also took on the role of Aunt Jemima.

A spokesperson for the Richard family expressed their opposition to the change, stating to KLTV, “I hope we would take a breath and not just eliminate everything, because it is our past, whether good or terrible. Taking that away takes a piece of me with it, a part of each of us.”