Aunt Jemima, Not Just Pancakes!


Aunt Jemima is a brand of pancake mix, syrup, and other breakfast foods. The Aunt Jemima pancake mix was advertised in 1889 as the first ready-mix. Aunt Jemima is based on the common enslaved “Mammy” archetype, a plump Black woman wearing a headscarf who is a devoted and submissive servant.

Her skin is dark and dewy, with a pearly white smile. Although depictions vary over time, they are similar to the common attire and physical features of “mammy” characters throughout history. The term “aunt” and “uncle” in this context was a Southern form of address used with older enslaved peoples. They were denied use of courtesy titles, such as “mistress” and “mister”.

By 1915 it had become one of the most recognized brands in US history and changed US trademark law.

Nancy Green portrayed Aunt Jemima at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, one of the first Black corporate models in the United States.

Subsequent advertising agencies hired dozens of actors to perform the role as the first organized sales promotion campaign.

The Aunt Jemima character is based on the enslaved “Mammy” archetype. Since its debut, the character has been criticized as an example of exploited African American women. “Aunt Jemima” is sometimes used as a female version of the derogatory epithet “Uncle Tom” or “Rastus“.

Advertising agencies representing he brand hired dozens of actors to portray the role, often assigned regionally, as the first organized sales promotion campaign.

Quaker Oats ended local appearances for Aunt Jemima in 1965

The brand is currently owned by the Quaker Oats Company of Chicago, a subsidiary of PepsiCo. On June 17, 2020, Quaker Oats announced that the Aunt Jemima brand would be retired “to make progress toward racial equality,” following the killing of George Floyd and subsequent protests. The image will be removed from packaging later in 2020, while the name change will happen at a later date.

There is some opposition to the change… Descendants of Aunt Jemima models Lillian Richard and Anna Short Harrington objected to the change. Vera Harris, a family historian for Richard’s family, stated, “I wish we would take a breath and not just get rid of everything. Because good or bad, it is our history.”  Harrington’s great-grandson Larnell Evans stated “This is an injustice for me and my family. This is part of my history.”

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January 25, 2022 12:24 am

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