Aunt Jemima I'se In Town Honey

Bye-Bye Aunt Jemima: Quaker Kills Longtime Pancake Mix and Syrup Mascot

Pepsico, parent company which in 2001 acquired Quaker Oats, the owner of  the Aunt Jemima line of products, is shelving the brand and accompanying graphics.

Quaker Oats announced the change, stating its intent is to, “make progress toward racial equality.” I say good riddance!

So far, no details have been provided as to what the replacement brand will be called.

Quaker Foods North America vice president and chief marketing officer Kristin Kroepfl provided this statement:

“We are starting by removing the image and changing the name. We will continue the conversation by gathering diverse perspectives from both our organization and the Black community to further evolve the brand and make it one everyone can be proud to have in their pantry.”

“We recognize Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype. 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.”

Aunt Jemima Modern Logo With Pearls

Aunt Jemima Modern Logo With Pearls

The trademark actually dates back to 1893, with the pancake mix being sold starting in 1889. Quaker acquired the trademark in 1937.

Where did the Aunt Jemima character originate? It was one of the stock characters in traveling minstrel shows.

Aunt Jemima I’se In Town Honey

Minstrelsy dates all the way back to the early 19th century, and included comedy, dancing, and music depicting Black characters, usually performed by White people in black-face.

There were, in fact, a number of Black performers and exclusively Black minstrel groups. These entertainers often wore blackface as well, darkening their skin even though they were already Black.

Aunt Jemima Breakfast Club

Aunt Jemima Breakfast Club

Amos ‘n’ Andy, first a radio program, and then a TV show, along with many others, took up the tradition in the twentieth century.

Black people were typically depicted as lazy, mentally slow, superstitious, and usually clownish. These are typical “Jim Crow” associations, Jim Crow laws referring to Southern state and local laws enforcing the system of segregation after slavery.

Staten Island Leader, A Long-Defunct SI Newspaper, With Highlighted Example of Jim Crow Humor In The North

Staten Island Leader, A Long-Defunct SI Newspaper, With Highlighted  Example of Jim Crow  Humor In The North

Most people of the North knew very  little of Jim Crow, it being a strictly Southern phenomenon.  But as you can see by the above excerpt from a late-nineteenth century edition of a Staten Island newspaper, such joked did exist, even in the North.

Even so, these stereotypical representation appealed chiefly to Southern White sensibilities.

Aunt Jemima Serving Her Famous Pancakes

Aunt Jemima Serving Her Famous Pancakes

Segregationists and defenders of slavery hated the original minstrel stage shows because they felt emancipated Black people were portrayed in a positive light, while abolitionists likewise hated the show, but because they felt depictions were demeaning to Black folks.

The name Aunt Jemima may have come from the fact that many Black slaves and servants took care of White people’s children, the “mammy” archetype, the name sounding quite a bit like “Ain’t Yo’ Mama” when spoken quickly.

Jemima was also a traditional name for Black women in the U.S. at the time. In fact, is is of Hebrew origin and means “dove.” In the Bible, Jemima is Job’s eldest daughter, a beautiful woman.

Aunt Jemima Butter Rich Syrup Bottles

Aunt Jemima Butter Rich Syrup Bottles

Aunt Jemima was an example of the “mammy” meme, a Black woman who was a slave, and later servant after slavery had ended, who was accommodating and caring toward her White “family,” always ready with a smile and a biscuit.

Gradually, the name became negatively associated, a female version of “Uncle Tom,” referring to a Black person whose own interests are  subservient to the interests of White people. At this point, this name is ruined for one and all baby girls, due to the associations with the ever-smiling Black pancake mix mascot.

Aunt Jemima Buttermilk Pancake Mix Box. Modern Logo

Aunt Jemima Buttermilk Pancake Mix Box. Modern Logo

In any case, the character was inspired by a Black entertainer named Billy Kersands’ minstrelsy song “Old Aunt Jemima” written in 1875.

The R.T. Davis Milling Company purchased the ready-mix pancake flour brand from the Pearl Milling Company, and hired former slave Nancy Green as spokeswoman for the pancake mix in 1890.

Use Aunt Jemima Pancake Flour

Use Aunt Jemima Pancake Flour

In 1893, Aunt Jemima pancakes gained fame at the Chicago World’s Fair. In 1933, Anna Robinson portrayed Aunt Jemima at the second Chicago World’s Fair. According to the Aunt Jemima website, Robinson became wealthy playing this role and purchased a 22-room mansion.

There were other actors who played Aunt Jemima, sometimes concurrently, each in a different region. These women were not used for TV or radio ads, as neither yet existed. They were presented in photos and illustrations , as well as  in-store demonstrations and free giveaways.

Aylene Lewis portrayed the character at the Aunt Jemima restaurant in Disneyland in the 1950s and 60s.

Aunt Jemima Early Logo (with kerchief)

Aunt Jemima Early Logo (with kerchief)

Over time, the image of Aunt Jemima was updated. First she lost her kerchief, and gradually she began to look like a modern Black woman, with fewer stereotypical connotations. The original logo was created by H. Gene Miller.

In 1966 Aunt Jemima maple syrup was added to the product line, as well as frozen breakfast foods in the late nineties.

Aunt Jemima In Person

Aunt Jemima In Person

The Aunt Jemima of today certainly looks quite different than the original design, but its history is still rooted in depictions of slavery in minstrel shows.

What will Americans, and people worldwide, do now? Perhaps making your own pancake mix is a good idea; it’s cheaper, and home-made pancakes will beat ready-made mix any day.

Aunt Jemima Pancakes. Dee-licious!

Aunt Jemima Pancakes. Dee-licious!

Bye-bye Aunt Jemima. We sure will miss you.

Recently, Land O’Lakes butter changed their own longtime logo of a Native American girl. In February of this year, Land O’Lakes ceased using the mascot, claiming it was a change in celebration of its 100th anniversary, choosing to instead go with graphics that “better tell its farmer-owned story.”

What other offensive logos and mascots are still with us? I can’t think of any at the moment, but I’m sure there are many.

Aunt Jemima. Folks Sho' Cheer For Fluffy, Energizing Aunt Jemima Pancakes

Aunt Jemima. Folks Sho’ Cheer For Fluffy, Energizing Aunt Jemima Pancakes

Lyrics to the original Aunt Jemima song by African-American, Billy Kersands (1842 – 1915):

The monkey dressed in soldier clothes,

Old Aunt Jemima, oh! oh! oh!

Went out in the woods for to drill some crows,

Old Aunt Jemima, oh! oh! oh!

The jay bird hung on the swinging limb,

Old Aunt Jemima, oh! oh! oh!

I up with a stone and hit him on the shin,

Old Aunt Jemima, oh! oh! oh!

Oh, Carline, oh, Carline,

Can’t you dance the bee line,

Old Aunt Jemima, oh! oh! oh! “Oh!oh!oh!” The bullfrog married the tadpole’s sister,

Old Aunt Jemima, oh! oh! oh!

He smacked his lips and then he kissed her,

Old Aunt Jemima, oh! oh! oh!

She says if you love me as I love you,

Old Aunt Jemima, oh! oh! oh!

No knife can cut our love in two,

Old Aunt Jemima, oh! oh! oh!

Oh, Carline, oh, Carline,

Can’t you dance the bee line (alternatively “pea-vine”),

Old Aunt Jemima, oh! oh! oh![2][3]

My old missus promise me,

Old Aunt Jemima, oh! oh! oh!

When she died she-d set me free,

Old Aunt Jemima, oh! oh! oh!

She lived so long her head got bald,

Old Aunt Jemima, oh! oh! oh!

She swore she would not die at all,

Old Aunt Jemima, oh! oh! oh! “Oh!oh!oh!”

4 Comments

  • Avatar Ebony Green says:

    Ms. Wise, very good presentation of facts. I learned more from this one article than the sound bites i’ve read and heard all day.

  • Avatar Guiseppe From Naples says:

    *sigh* If only they’d stop with the Italian American memes on TV, in movies, and with commercials. Italians were regarded as [deleted] only a few decades ago. Look it up.

  • Avatar Polymath Whiz says:

    Did you see ZeroHedge was demonetized by Google? This site seems far off the radar. No ads. No subs. I’ve read it’s a 100% loss designed solely as an experiment in free speech. I love Staten Islander because it presents all views. No pandering. I see that if you don’t run ads, you don’t have to worry about losing advertisers. I don’t know how they do it, but keep it up Staten Island is a TRUTH DESERT.

  • […] In a recent article on the removal of Mrs. Butterworth, the question was raised whether the effort to sanitize brands, in terms of Black imagery, is just the first step toward the erasure of Black culture and heritage in American. (See Bye-Bye Aunt Jemima: Quaker Kills Longtime Pancake Mix and Syrup Mascot ) […]

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