Patch.com reports a great-grandson of “Aunt Jemima” doesn’t want Quaker Oats — or white America, for that matter — to easily erase its racist history by “retiring” the iconic breakfast brand.
On Wednesday, Chicago-based Quaker Foods announced it would eliminate the Aunt Jemima brand of pancake mix and syrup in response to civil unrest and protests calling for racial equity across America sparked by the killing of George Floyd, a black man who died with his neck under the knee of a white Minnesota police officer.
“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.”
The first “Aunt Jemima” debuted at Chicago’s World’s Fair in 1893. Former enslaved woman Nancy Green, who worked as a cook on the South Side, was hired to wear an apron and headscarf while serving pancakes to folks who came to visit the fairgrounds known as “The White City.” Green embodied the Aunt Jemima character until her death in 1923.
Evans says his great-grandmother — the late Anna Short Harrington — took Green’s place.
Harrington was born on a South Carolina plantation where her family worked as sharecroppers. In 1927, a white family from New York “bought” Harrington to be their maid. She made a living as cook at the Kappa Sigma fraternity house in Syracuse and worked for wealthy white people, including Gov. Thomas E. Dewey. She was discovered by a Quaker Oats representative while serving up her pancakes, a favorite of local frat boys, at the New York State Fair in 1935.
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.
Evans said the case started with a bad lawyer, and things only got worse. He and his nephew were representing themselves against Quaker Oats’ corporate lawyers when a federal judge in Chicago dismissed the case with prejudice, court records show. Evans and his nephew weren’t executors of Harrington’s estate. They didn’t have legal standing to sue in her name, the judge ruled. The appellate court denied an appeal.
“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?”
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