Aunt Jemima Sued for $2 Billion by Descendants of the Real ‘Mammy’

aunt jemina

Everyone is up in arms about the NFL team in Washington, and for good reason. Cries of racism have littered the nation’s capital and Commissioner Roger Goodell’s office for months. However, since the Commish is busy tackling an out-of-control crisis issue with domestic violence, #ChangeTheMascot has been shelved for a while.

Another mascot has risen to prominence recently, but it has nothing to do with sports and everything to do with your morning breakfast. Yes, we’re talking about Aunt Jemima.

The bandana-wrapped woman hearkens back to an earlier time in America — a time when people ate together as a family,  talked at the table instead of playing with mobile devices…and had a slave to do everything while they sat there.

Sure, it’s been a while since 1865 but the great-grandsons of the real Aunt Jemima are suing Quaker Oats for $2 billion of the pancake empire. Yes, that’s a lotta dough. (S0rry.)

Many will think this is a frivolous lawsuit of the highest order. Others will think it has been a long time coming. Here’s the breakdown, according to Time magazine:

The plaintiffs claim that their great-grandmother, Anna Short Harrington, refined the recipe for the pancake mix along with Nancy Green, the original inspiration for the brand’s ‘Aunt Jemima’ figurehead, the Louisville, Ky. Courier-Journal reports.

They contend that an agreement existed to share a percentage of revenue each time the likenesses of their “relative” were used to market the pancake mix and that they are owed $2 billion in compensation, plus a share of future revenue.

What that doesn’t tell you is that Nancy Green was born in 1834, as a slave. Yes, you knew this was going to have something to do with the way Aunt Jemima is portrayed. Whether it was stereotypical advertising or a realistic depiction of what Green was rumored to look like — “Mammy” has sold the first self-rising pancakes to Americans for decades.

aunt-jemima-2Of course, Quaker Oats, a subsidiary of PepsiCo, refutes the claim of the ancestors that an agreement existed to share a percentage of revenue each time the likenesses of their “relative” were used to market the pancake mix.

“The image symbolizes a sense of caring, warmth, hospitality and comfort and is neither based on, nor meant to depict any one person.”

Oh, so they all looked alike back then? Ugh. Regardless, D.W. Hunter and Larnell Evans cite the history of Aunt Jemima’s mix, as seen on its website.

You will read the company was first developed by Chris Rutt and Charles Underwood of the Pearl Milling Company in 1889. One year later, a young lady named Nancy Green was hired by the “struggling Aunt Jemima Manufacturing Company” to portray the larger-than-life character.

That was followed by the hiring of Anna Robinson to portray Aunt Jemima, which she did until her death in 1952. So why sue now? In short, “the man” lied.

The suit alleges that PepsiCo Inc., Quaker Oats, Pinnacle Foods and Hillshire Brands Co. deliberately withheld information that identified Harrington as a former employee of Quaker Oats while simultaneously exploiting her image and recipes—without paying a fair share of royalties to her or related family members for over 60 years.

Does Aunt Jemima’s folksy vernacular and gregarious appearance make you feel warm, fuzzy, and hungry? Or, are you devoid of a soul? Green’s ancestors also want to remind us that the Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State University in Michigan includes her image in a traveling “Hateful Things” exhibit alongside Uncle Ben’s Rice and other period advertisements, toys and cartoons, mainly from the Civil War through segregation.

However this pans out, the one thing rising now is awareness about what kind of country this used to be — and a bit of how we are still are today.

Publish date: October 9, 2014 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT