Family of woman who portrayed Aunt Jemima opposes move to rebrand: 'We do not want that history erased'
'We want the world to know that our cousin Lillian was one of the Aunt Jemima's and she made an honest living. We would ask that you reconsider just wiping all that away,' Vera Harris said
The family of a Texas woman who had once portrayed Aunt Jemima is against the breakfast brands' decision to rebrand. Vera Harris revealed that the family takes a lot of pride in Quaker Oats scouting out her second cousin Lillian Richard to become a brand representative in the year 1925, KLTV reports. Harris shared, "She was considered a hero in [her hometown of] Hawkins, and we are proud of that. We do not want that history erased." Harris revealed that Richard had worked for the company for around 23 years and had traveled around as Aunt Jemima to serve pancakes until she passed away after suffering a stroke. "She made an honest living out of it for a number of years. She toured around Texas," Harris said.
Harris also pointed out that there "wasn’t a lot of jobs, especially for black women back in that time." Harris revealed that the family was left upset by the Quaker Oats announcement that was made last week. The announcement revealed that Aunt Jemima products were going to get rebranded as the character's origins are "based on a racial stereotype." Harris added, "We want the world to know that our cousin Lillian was one of the Aunt Jemima's and she made an honest living. We would ask that you reconsider just wiping all that away."
"I wish we would take a breath and not just get rid of everything, because good or bad, it is our history. Removing that wipes away a part of me — a part of each of us," Harris continued. In a press release obtained by NBC News, Quaker Oats, which is a subsidiary of PepsiCo, acknowledged that they would be removing the image and changing the name to "make progress toward racial equality." Kristin Kroepfl, vice president and chief marketing officer of Quaker Foods North America, revealed, "We recognize 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."
Kroepfl said that the company had worked to "update" the brand to be more "appropriate and respectful". They also announced that they will be donating $5 million over the next five years to "create meaningful, ongoing support and engagement in the Black community." The brand had received its trademark in 1893 with the cover of the products featuring a black fictional character, Aunt Jemima, a mammy who worked for a white family. The term 'mammy' was used to describe a devoted and submissive servant who cared for and looked after the children of her white master and mistress. The name Aunt Jemima had been inspired by the song, 'Old Aunt Jemima' which was often sung by slaves. Quaker said the new packaging for its syrup and pancakes mix will begin appearing in the fall of 2020 and they would announce a new name at a later date.