Pepsico owned Quaker Oats Company has announced it’s removing its Aunt Jemima brand name and associated illustrations, which have been associated with the brand since 1889.
According to a press statement: “We recognize Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype. As we work to make progress toward racial equality through several initiatives, we also must take a hard look at our portfolio of brands and ensure they reflect our values and meet our consumers’ expectations.”
Aunt Jemima imagery will be removed by the fourth quarter of this year with a full rebrand sometime later. In addition to brand changes, PepsiCo has announced plans to invest $400 million in initiatives dedicated to improving black communities and black representation at the company during the next five years.
The statement in and of itself can be viewed as controversial because it erases Nancy Green, a woman who in 1834 was born into slavery in Mt. Sterling, Kentucky. Following the Civil War, Green moved to Chicago and was hired by the Randolph Truett Davis Milling Company in 1889 to take on the role of the Aunt Jemima character until her untimely death on August 30, 1923.
While the company was founded in 1888 by Pearl Milling Company with the original Aunt Jemima character thought to be inspired by a white male blackface performer, the concept of a ready-made pancake mix failed to take off until it was sold and Green was hired to represent the name.
Green’s portrayal of Aunt Jemima was so successful, the company eventually changed its name to Aunt Jemima Mills Company. According to Appalachian Magazine, “Green’s ongoing presence, combined with the sophisticated marketing machine behind her, made such a lasting public impact that the company was renamed Aunt Jemima Mills Company in 1914.”
When the Quaker Oats Company purchased the company in 1926, it continued to employ women to play the role of Aunt Jemima including Lillian Richard, Anna Short Harrington, Ethel Ernestine Harper and Rosie Lee Moore who portrayed her in the 1950s.
In 2014, the grandchildren of Anna Short Harrington filed a lawsuit against Quaker Oats and PepsiCo for $2 billion for failing to pay Harrington, her heirs and the heirs of the other women who took on the role an “equitable fair share of royalties” from the pancake mix and syrup brand that uses her likeness. The lawsuit ultimately was dismissed.
Below is a portrait of Green by illustrator A.B. Frost.