Reviewing The Origins of Aunt Jemima
In case you haven't heard, Quaker Foods has announced it is doing away with the Aunt Jemima brand of products in an effort to "make progress towards racial equality." Aunt Jemima herself has been used to sell products for 130 years. Since the announcement was made, there has been two very different reactions. Some say that it's about time the racially insensitive branding be removed. Others believe that this is a knee jerk reaction to our current social climate. There is also a lot of conflicting stories online about the origins of Aunt Jemima. Was it a real person? Was it a racial epithet?
Well, after today's blockbuster announcement, I decided to do a little research. One of the things I've seen posted a lot online today is that the company was founded and based on a real life person. That is not true. Chris Rutt and Charles Underwood, from the Pearl Milling Company, developed the world's first ready made pancake mix. It is a widely considered fact that the two men decided the name the company Aunt Jemima after the minstrelsy/vaudeville song 'Old Aunt Jemima'. Rutt reportedly saw a show where the number was performed and the rest was history. I've also seen several reports state that 'Aunt Jemima' can be used as a racial insult.
Many online are confusing the first actress/model to portray Aunt Jemima as the company's founder. With that being said, Nancy Green could be a strong candidate to replace the Aunt Jemima character as she was a truly inspiring woman. Green was born into slavery, earned her freedom, became an amazing cook and spent most of her adult life working as a missionary and engaging in anti-poverty programs and fighting for racial equality.
However, she also has a complicated history with PepsiCo/Quaker. Relatives sued Quaker Foods for 3 Billion dollars in 2014. Her family claims that Green was cheated out of compensation for her portrayal of Aunt Jemima and also helped create the iconic pancake mix and syrups. That suit was dismissed with prejudice in 2015 as the family members failed to prove they were related to Green.
Another claim I've seen online today is that 'nobody seemed to care about Aunt Jemima being on a pancake box until recently'. That too could not be further from the truth. Many in the community, dating all the way back to the 1930s, have been lobbying the company to change the branding as they saw Aunt Jemima as a setback to race relations and highly offensive to the black community due to the company using slavery and racial stereotypes to sell pancakes.
Now, it remains to be seen what Quaker Foods and PepsiCo will do with the brand. Will they pull items off the shelves immediately to completely relaunch the products? Will they phase in a new product slowly? Only time will tell. One thing is certain, this didn't just happen overnight and there's a lot of misinformation on the subject being spread online.