After a lot of outrage about Aunt Jemima being established on racial history, the brand decided to rename their products.
After George Floyd's death in May 2020, people all over America began protesting against racism. A lot was written on how not to be racist. But one singer named KIRBY shared a video on how to not make a racist breakfast in which she specifically spoke about Aunt Jemima and the history behind it.
Soon enough, per NBC News, people were calling out the brand for continuing to use the image and discussed its racist history. New York Times states that Quaker Oats knew that one of their most popular brands was built on racist imagery, and over the years they've done the bare minimum to get away with it. First, they started by replacing the kerchief on the Aunt Jemima character’s head with a plaid headband in 1968. Later, in 1989, they added pearl earrings and a lace collar.
Ever since the brand was pulled up, Quaker Oats announced it would drop the Aunt Jemima name and change the packaging. They also acknowledged that Aunt Jemima’s origins were “based on a racial stereotype.”
However, a day after the announcement, a person claiming to be the great-grandson of "Aunt Jemima" protested the decision, stating that the corporation was erasing black history and suffering.
The original "Aunt Jemima" was a formerly enslaved woman named Nancy Green, who worked as a cook. Quaker described her as a "storyteller, cook, and missionary worker," but forgot to mention the fact that she was born into slavery. Nancy Green was first hired to serve pancakes at the Chicago's World's Fair in 1893, which is also the first time the brand name was used. She wore an apron and headscarf while serving people at the fairgrounds known as The White City. She passed away in 1923.
Green was replaced by Anna Short Harrington — who Evans Sr. claims, was his great-grandmother— embodying the brand as "Aunt Jemima." in 1935.
Harrington was reportedly a slave back in 1927 and was bought by a White family to serve them. A Quaker Oats representative saw her serving pancakes at the New York State Fair and decided to make her "Aunt Jemima". Since then, her image has been used on their products as well as in their advertisements.
"This is an injustice for me and my family. This is part of my history," said Larnell Evans Sr., a Marine Corps veteran, reported Patch. He accused the corporation of trying to erase slavery after profiting off of it. "The racism they talk about, using images from slavery, that comes from the other side — white people. This company profits off images of our slavery. And their answer is to erase my great-grandmother's history. A black female. … It hurts."
Larnell Evans Sr. and a nephew also claimed the brand had adopted her pancake recipe, and have sought $3 billion from Quaker Oats. "She worked for that Quaker Oats for 20 years. She traveled all the way around the United States and Canada making pancakes as Aunt Jemima for them," said Evans Sr. "This woman served all those people, and it was after slavery. She worked as Aunt Jemima. That was her job. … How do you think I feel as a black man sitting here telling you about my family history they're trying to erase?"
Their demand for royalties was scuppered after the Federal Court ruled they were not executors of Harrington's estate, which made them ineligible to sue in her name.
This prompted the alleged grandson to say it's not right for corporations to make money off racial stereotypes and images and then simply move on. "How many white people were raised looking at characters like Aunt Jemima at breakfast every morning? How many white corporations made all the profits, and didn't give us a dime?" said Evans Sr. "They're just going to erase history like it didn't happen? ... They're not going to give us nothing? What gives them the right?" he questioned.
Meanwhile, Quaker Oats has vowed to set aside $5 million over the next five years to help "create meaningful, ongoing support and engagement in the Black community." CNN reports that Aunt Jemima products will be replaced with the Pearl Milling Company name and logo on the former brand's new packaging.
Cover Image Source: Getty Images | Photo by Justin Sullivan