Voices are rising up against the decision of Quaker Oats to cancel Aunt Jemima. Family members of women who portrayed Aunt Jemima are not happy about erasing the iconic marketing symbol now.
Lillian Richard, an East Texas native, is credited with putting Hawkins, Texas on the map. The small town of 1,278 as of the 2010 census was even named the pancake capital of Texas by the state’s historical commission because of her. Visitors are welcomed by signs proclaiming the town as “Home of Lillian Richard ‘Aunt Jemima.’
Ms. Richard was an ambassador for Quaker Oats. Vera Harris is the family historian for the Richard family. She can’t believe that Quaker Oats is taking Aunt Jemima off its boxes of pancake mix and bottles of syrup. She asks that the company reconsider erasing history.
“A lot of people want it removed. We want the world to know that our cousin Lillian was one of the Aunt Jemima’s and she made an honest living. We would ask that you reconsider just wiping all that away. There wasn’t a lot of jobs, especially for black women back in that time. She was discovered by Quaker Oats to be their brand person,” Harris said.
Lillian Richard became a goodwill ambassador for Quaker Oats, and for decades, portrayed Aunt Jemima all over Texas.
“She made an honest living out of it for a number of years. She toured around Texas,” Harris said.
Just outside of Hawkins is a historical sign recognizing Lillian Richard as one of several women who portrayed Aunt Jemima. Her family and community is proud of her. Ms. Harris wishes everyone would just take a breath. She thinks that activism has gone too far.
“I wish we would take a breath and not just get rid of everything. because good or bad, it is our history. Removing that wipes away a part of me. A part of each of us. We are proud of our cousin,” Harris said.
Who can blame Ms. Harris for speaking up? Her family doesn’t want Lillian to be erased from history. Lillian worked for Quaker Oats for 23 years. She died in 1956. Keep in mind that during the years Lillian and other women who were portraying Aunt Jemima for Quakers Oats jobs were not plentiful for women, especially African-American women from small towns. Her family is rightfully proud of her accomplishments. Harris also weighed in on another timely subject – she and the Richards family are also against the renaming of military bases. The family is against that because many of their relatives are veterans.
Hawkins Chamber of Commerce is calling the Quaker Oats decision as an overreach. Town residents agree.
Bessie Peeples is with the Hawkins Chamber of Commerce and said she believes the decision to drop the image of Aunt Jemima is wrong.
“I think they are going overboard in trying to over correct something that I don’t believe was ever the intent,” Peeples said.
“I don’t see where she [has] anything to do with what is happening in the world today…” resident Kenneth Lemons said.
“I just don’t see them buying a box without her picture on it,” resident John Bowden added.
A sister publication, Townhall, ran a piece about the grandson of one Aunt Jemima. The grandson of Anna Short Harrington, Larnell Evans Sr., is speaking out. Harrington was discovered as the original Aunt Jemima after replacing Nancy Green. Ms.Green was hired in 1893 to service pancakes at Chicago’s World’s Fair. She wore an apron and headscarf while serving pancakes, which she did until her death in 1923. Mr. Evans says if Quaker Oats wants to make amends for the use of Aunt Jemima’s likeness in marketing, the company should pay out some restitution to his family. From The Patch:
“This is an injustice for me and my family. This is part of my history, sir,” Larnell Evans Sr. told me. “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.”
Quaker Oats used Harrington’s likeness on products and advertising, and it sent her around the country to serve flapjacks dressed as “Aunt Jemima.” The gig made her a national celebrity.
Quaker Oats also used Harrington’s pancake recipe, Evans and a nephew claimed in a 2014 lawsuit seeking $3 billion from Quaker Oats for not paying royalties to Harrington’s descendants. The attempt to make Quaker Oats pay restitution in federal court failed.
“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,” he said. “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?”
Aunt Jemima was based on a real person, not some Mammy stereotype. All of this canceling of iconic marketing symbols is to ease liberal white guilt, as Mr. Evans points out. It’s interesting to learn that his grandmother wasn’t compensated for her pancake recipe. The women who portrayed Aunt Jemima, either as the original one or an ambassador traveling across the country to sell Quaker Oats products, were groundbreaking African-American women who deserve the dignity and respect of not being erased from history today.