In 2020, when Quaker Oats announced its decision to discontinue the “Aunt Jemima” brand in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, it ignited a significant and complex debate. The move aimed to address concerns about racial stereotypes and insensitivity associated with the brand’s imagery.
However, just one day after this announcement, Larnell Evans Sr., the great-grandson of one of the women who portrayed Aunt Jemima, voiced strong objections. Evans argued that discontinuing the brand would effectively erase an important part of black history and the suffering endured by his great-grandmother, Anna Short Harrington. He saw it as an injustice, particularly since the brand had profited from imagery associated with slavery for many years. Quaker Oats had used the likeness of Nancy Green, a black woman who was once enslaved, as the emblem for Aunt Jemima.
Nancy Green, born into slavery, was described by Quaker Oats as a “storyteller, cook, and missionary worker.” The brand was first introduced when she was contracted to serve pancakes at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. After Green’s passing in 1923, Anna Short Harrington, whom Larnell Evans Sr. claims as his great-grandmother, took on the role in 1935.
Evans highlighted that Anna Short Harrington worked for Quaker Oats for two decades, traveling across the United States and Canada as Aunt Jemima to make pancakes. He emphasized that she served people long after the era of slavery had ended, and that being Aunt Jemima was her job. To him, it was deeply upsetting that the brand had capitalized on a racial stereotype for profit and was now swiftly removing it from public view, especially considering his family’s connection to the character.
He questioned how many white individuals had grown up seeing characters like Aunt Jemima on their breakfast tables and how many corporations had profited from it without adequately compensating the Black community. Evans strongly believed that erasing this history without acknowledgment or compensation was unjust. The controversy surrounding the discontinuation of Aunt Jemima underscores the complex intersection of racial stereotypes, corporate responsibility, and the need to address historical injustices.
It continues to be a subject of heated discussion, with varying opinions on whether the brand’s removal is a step toward greater racial sensitivity or an erasure of an important part of African-American history.