On Wednesday, Quaker Oats announced that their Aunt Jemima syrup and pancake mix will be getting a “makeover” with a new name and image.
The notoriously loved syrup and pancake brand has been accused of perpetuating a racial stereotype.
In a statement to NBC News, the Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of Quaker Foods North America, Kristin Kroepfl, said “We recognize Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype.” She added, “While work has been done over the years to update the brand in a manner intended to be appropriate and respectful, we realize those changes are not enough.”
Who is the real Aunt Jemima, and what is her story?
Nancy Green was the initial inspiration for the first Aunt Jemima, the African-American woman who served as the face of the pancake and syrup brand for more than 100 years.
Green was born a slave in Montgomery County, Kentucky in 1834. She resided there throughout the Civil War, and later moved to Chicago after she found herself a free woman. In Chicago, she became a cook and nanny for Judge Charles Walker.
Judge Walker recommended that she represent R.T. Davis Milling Company’s pancake mix.
In 1893, she appeared at the Chicago’s World’s Fair in character as Aunt Jemima to promote the pancake mix where she served flapjacks to thousands of people. Her warm personality and excellent culinary skills made the Aunt Jemima brand a huge sensation.
The Davis Milling Company received over 50,000 orders and Nancy was awarded a green medal and certificate of her showmanship.
She was eventually hired to be the spokeswoman for the company, and her Aunt Jemima character eventually gained a lot of attention and became popular with customers that the pancake company was re-named after Aunt Jemima.
In her spare time, she was highly involved with her local church and even helped fund charity groups to help fight poverty.
In 1923 the beloved “Pancake Queen” died in a terrible car accident.
The Aunt Jemima brand, owned by Quaker Oats, has previously come under fire for its logo and brand name. In 2015, an opinion piece with the New York Times by Riche Richardson, a professor at Cornell University, called out the company for their use of the logo.
Richardson said that the logo was “very much linked to Southern racism” because it was a depiction of a “mammy”, who was “a devoted and submissive servant who eagerly nurtured the children of her white master and mistress while neglecting her own.”
Personally, I think that we are missing the beauty of Nancy Green’s story. Her story should be one of inspiration and hope. That no matter where you come from, or what your beginnings are, or what hardships you’ve been dealt with, you don’t have to stay there.
We should celebrate the most famous African-American woman at the turn of the 20th century, the “Pancake Queen”, who became the face of a brand Americans love and cherish.
Her story should continue to be an inspiration to all, instead of being wiped away and forgotten.