Aunt Jemima Family Resists Changing Logo: ‘I Just Don’t Want Her Legacy Lost’

OPINION | This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion.

Relatives of the original Aunt Jemima, whose depiction is used to represent the syrup and pancake mix brand, are contesting calls to have her image removed.

While Quaker Oats has already announced a change to the name, logo, and bottle, will be announced in the fall, family members want their opinions heard.

NBC News reports Vera Harris, whose great aunt, Lillian Richard, traveled the country promoting the Quaker Oats brand and portraying the Aunt Jemima character for more than 20 years, said changing the logo would effectively remove her family’s legacy.

“I understand the images that white America portrayed us years ago. They painted themselves Black and they portrayed that like us,” she told NBC News. “I understand what Quaker Oats is doing because I’m Black and I don’t want a negative image promoted, however, I just don’t want her legacy lost, because if her legacy is swept under the rug and washed away, it’s as if she never was a person.”

Harris said Richard was at the forefront of the business, representing Quaker Oats, in the 1920s when there were “no jobs for Black people, especially Black women.”

“She took the job to make an honest living to support herself, touring around at fairs, cooking demonstrations and events,” Harris explained. “When she came back home, they were proud of her and we’re still proud of her.”

NBC News reports another family member of a different Aunt Jemima brand representative does not want the change:

While many have welcomed the Aunt Jemima change, Larnell Evans Sr., the great-grandson of Anna Short Harrington, who he says played the Aunt Jemima character after she was discovered while serving pancakes at the New York State Fair in 1935, believes the branding should remain the same.

“This comes as a slap in the face,” Evans Sr. said. “She worked 25 years doing it. She improved their product … what they’re trying to do is ludicrous.”

“Twenty-five years of this lady’s life is just going to go away,” he continued. “Why would they just, after all this time, just want to give it up?”

— Advertisement —

“In spite of our dark past, that past is our past. We can’t run from it, but we can be better in the future,” Harris said. “When my grandson is grown and has children, I want them to know that they had a great-great-great aunt that made an honest living, made honest money, but portrayed something that people probably don’t think was honest, but in my mind, she was doing what she had to do to survive and make a living.”

NBC News adds:

Quaker Oats announced Wednesday that it would be updating the name and design of its 130-year-old Aunt Jemima brand in recognition of the fact that its “origins are based on a racial stereotype.” The first “Aunt Jemima” was introduced at Chicago’s World’s Fair in 1893 and was portrayed by Nancy Green, a formerly enslaved woman. The brand’s design had already changed at least five times, with previous versions including a woman dressed as a minstrel character and wearing a “mammy” kerchief.

The most recent decision to revamp the brand, which has been criticized for promulgating a reductive and racist version of slavery,came amid ongoing protests calling for racial justice. Other brands, such as Uncle Ben’s and Cream of Wheat, have also recently announced they plan to adjust their branding following years of criticism and Quaker Oats’ announcement.

According to the report, Culinary historian Michael Twitty said people are advocating change to African icons being used to represent brand names as the icons themselves are a callback to slavery.

In an essay written for NBC News, Twitty explained the icons were physical “stand-ins for what white people viewed as a generation of formerly enslaved Black cooks now lost to them.”

“The character of Aunt Jemima is an invitation to white people to indulge in a fantasy of enslaved people — and by extension, all of Black America — as submissive, self-effacing, loyal, pacified, and pacifying,” he continued in the essay. “It positions Black people as boxed in, prepackaged, and ready to satisfy; it’s the problem of all consumption, only laced with racial overtones.”