Ethel Ernestine Harper, the last woman whose face appeared on the brand, later became a celebrated teacher of Black history through schools, the Girl Scouts and as a topical radio host in her adopted hometown of Morristown, New Jersey. Two families of women who portrayed Aunt Jemima say they oppose Quaker Oats’ plans to rename the brand of syrup and pancake mixes and change the iconic figure.
Quaker Oats announced last week it would retire Aunt Jemima because it’s “based on a racial stereotype,” saying its prior work to update the character was “not enough.”
The move, considered long overdue by experts, historians and some consumers, was the first in a series of rebranding announcements that grew to include Uncle Ben’s, Mrs. Butterworth’s, Cream of Wheat and Eskimo Pie.
The first Aunt Jemima image was based on Kentucky native Nancy Green, a Civil War-era slave from Mount Sterling, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal, part of the USA TODAY Network.
Originally, Aunt Jemima was shown with a wide smile and wearing a bandanna in her hair, an image that faced criticism for years as it was accused of encouraging racist stereotypes. In 1989, the image was revamped, with the new model wearing pearl earrings with straightened curls.
Anna Short Harrington is believed to be the model after Green.
“I wish we would take a breath and not just get rid of everything, because good or bad, it is our history.” Vera Harris, family historian for the Lillian Richard family
Larnell Evans Sr., Harrington’s great-grandson, told Patch that he was hurt and offended by the brand’s decision.
“This is an injustice for me and my family. This is part of my history,” Evans told Patch. “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.”
The family of Lillian Richard, a native of Hawkins, Texas, also spoke out against the rebranding decision.
Richard was the face of Aunt Jemima from 1925 to 1940, a Texas CBS station reported, noting signs into the town say “Home of Lillian Richard ‘Aunt Jemima.'” In 1995, the Texas Legislature passed a resolution declaring Hawkins as the “Pancake Capital of Texas.”
“I wish we would take a breath and not just get rid of everything, because good or bad, it is our history,” Vera Harris, family historian for the Richard family, told KLTV. “Removing that wipes away a part of me. A part of each of us. We are proud of our cousin.”
Ethel Ernestine Harper, the last woman whose face appeared on the brand, later became a celebrated teacher of Black history through schools, the Girl Scouts and as a topical radio host in her adopted hometown of Morristown, New Jersey, reported the Morristown Daily Record, part of the USA TODAY Network.
Harper was born in 1903 in Alabama, where she grew up and earned a college degree at age 17, worked as a teacher and was president of the Birmingham City Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs before moving to New York to pursue a career in music.
Contributing: William Westhoven, Morristown Daily Record; Lucas Aulbach, Louisville Courier Journal
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