*Beginning in 1889, the stereotypical image of Aunt Jemima was affixed to the packaging of pancake mix made by The Quaker Oats company. The image was a fat Black woman wearing a scarf around her head, which some folks called a “mammy rag.” It was the image that many white people held of Black women, who during slavery cooked, cleaned, and tended to the children of slaveowners.
The first model for Aunt Jemima was from the likeness of Lillian Richard, followed by Anna Short Harrington. When The Quaker Oats company began getting pressured to change the stereotypical image of Aunt Jemima over the past few decades, the company finally announced last June that it would no longer used the photo image of Aunt Jemima on any of its packaging. Instead, Quaker Oats company’s brand of pancake mixes and syrups will now be known as Pearl Milling Company.
On the outside looking in, it appears to be a victory that the racist and minstrelsy stereotype image of a Black woman is gone. Yet the ancestors of the models that made the pancake mix famous want more than the erased images.
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Recently, Lillian Richard’s great-niece, Vera Richard Harris, told TMZ she wants to see her great-aunt’s name inscribed on the new Pearl Milling Company packaging. She wants the same for other Black women whose images graced the products through its iterations over the past 132 years.
Wanetta Cowan, great-granddaughter of product model Anna Short Harrington, is in lockstep with Harris, pertaining to her ancestor’s name being inscribed on the packaging of the new product. Cowan also said that “payments for their descendants in the form of royalties is the right thing for the company to do.”
Both women say they don’t want their ancestors to be forgotten, now that new packaging has emerged, based on the hard erasure of the Aunt Jemima’s image that PepsiCo/Quaker has opted to do.
“These conglomerates,” said Cowan, “have made a fortune off family members’ images for decades…and now just want to act like they never existed.”
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On Instagram, one of Harrington’s relatives posted the following: “We are extremely proud to be of the lineage of our grandmother Anna Short Harrington, come to be known as Aunt Jemima. Her pancake mix and likeness have become a staple for the Quaker Oats Company. We have fought years for royalties and recognition but to no avail. Hearing that the name Aunt Jemima and the image of Anna Harrington will finally be removed from products, feels like you are trying to erase a part of our history without proper compensation. Now that you have admitted that using the image of Aunt Jemima was insensitive and racially hurtful, you must correct the years of exploitation.”