Following Quaker Oats’ announcement that they are completely replacing the Aunt Jemima brand, there has been lots of questions about the origins of the Aunt Jemima figure.
Following George Floyd’s death and Black Lives Matter protests last year which have reverberated globally, many companies have started learning from criticisms which they have received for decades.
Whether that’s fashion brands finally being held accountable for their lack of inclusivity, or companies whose employee guidelines are explicitly discriminative, there has been a long-awaited reckoning across industries around the world.
Quaker Oats is the latest to deal with such accusations of racism, largely centred on their brand Aunt Jemima.
On Tuesday (February 9th), PepsiCo, the parent company for Quaker Oats, has confirmed that it has changed Aunt Jemima’s name to Pearl Milling Company.
But was Aunt Jemima a real person? Where has the figure come from and why do people online believe she was a real-life millionaire?
Was Aunt Jemima a real person?
Aunt Jemima was not a real person, but the original face of the brand was Nancy Green, a formerly enslaved Black woman.
Nancy Green was born into slavery on November 17th, 1834 in Kentucky. At the age of 56 (in 1890), Nancy was hired as one of the first models for the Aunt Jemima brand. Aunt Jemima was named after a song from a minstrel show.
Nancy, who was originally dressed as a minstrel character on the 130-year-old brand’s packaging has evolved over time to reflect a change in attitudes/ In recent years, Quaker Oats removed the “mammy” kerchief she wore, however this move was still not enough. The removal of Nancy’s image and the Aunt Jemima brand is a long-awaited change which has been welcomed by many.
Nancy Green and Aunt Jemima
Although there were numerous African-American women who were the original models for Aunt Jemima, Nancy Green was the most well known.
In 1893, Green was introduced as Aunt Jemima at the World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chicago. Here it was her job to operate a pancake-cooking display. Nancy’s success at this Expo landed her a lifetime contract to adopt the Aunt Jemima name and promote the pancake mix in a promotional drive.
Nancy was still working under the character of Aunt Jemima until her death in 1923.
Was Aunt Jemima really a millionaire?
There has been a longstanding debate about whether Nancy Green became a millionaire as a result of her Aunt Jemima character.
Reports emerged online that Nancy Green was a millionaire however the majority of these claims are unsubstantiated. One Twitter user posted an image of Nancy Green’s Wikipedia page which had it written that she was a millionaire by the time of her death, however this statement has since been removed.
In 2014, a lawsuit was filed against PepsiCo which stated that Nancy Green and Anna S. Harrington (another of the Aunt Jemima models) were not paid the monetary compensations they were promised.
Harrington’s two great-grandsons filed the complaint. In 2015, a judge tossed out the $3 billion lawsuit claiming the two descendants could not prove their relation to Anna Harrington.
It is most likely that Aunt Jemima was not a millionaire.
Aunt Jemima has been rebranded as Pearl Milling Company
PepsiCo has announced the rebranding of Aunt Jemima which will now be called Pearl Milling Company.
The company explained that products will be available under the old name until June this year, excluding Aunt Jemima’s character image.
In a statement, PepsiCo explained:
“Last June, PepsiCo and The Quaker Oats Company made a commitment to change the name and image of Aunt Jemima, recognizing that they do not reflect our core values. While the name on the box has changed, the great tasting products – the “pearl” inside the familiar red box – remains the same, with a mission to create joyful breakfast moments for everyone. We will have future announcements regarding our community impact initiative.”
“We recognise Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype. As we work to make progress toward racial equality through several initiatives, we also must take a hard look at our portfolio of brands and ensure they reflect our values and meet our consumers’ expectations.”
Other companies such as Uncle Ben’s and Land O’Lakes have also announced new redesigns, rebranding packaging images which many have deemed racist.