Aunt Jemima's Racist Origins: What to Know

PepsiCo subsidiary Quaker Oats announced on Wednesday that it would be changing the name and packaging of its line of Aunt Jemima food products. Known to households everywhere as a line of pancake mixes and other breakfast products, the company admitted that the logo for the eponymous Aunt Jemima line was "based on a racial stereotype."

The decision came amid ongoing Civil Rights protests across the U.S., which started calling an end to police brutality after the death of 46-year-old George Floyd during his arrest in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25. As the protests grew, they began to cast a new light on long-held institutions in government, entertainment and everyday products that were rooted in racism. Quaker Foods North America VP and CMO Kristin Kroepf issued a statement that read that the company "must take a hard look at our portfolio of brands and ensure they reflect our values and meet our consumers' expectations" as they "work to make progress toward racial equality through several initiatives."

The origins of the Aunt Jemima logo can be traced back to the song "Old Aunt Jemima," which was performed in minstrel shows in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, often featuring White performers in Blackface. The official website states that the logo was created around 1890 and was based on Nancy Green, a former slave who had spent her life as a "storyteller, cook and missionary worker." In 1890, the R. T. Davis Milling Company, which first manufactured Aunt Jemima pancake mix until 1926, hired Green as a spokesperson. Green kept the job until her death on Aug. 30, 1923, and was replaced by a number of other actors and models.

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(Photo: Getty )

While the logo itself has changed slightly over the years, it's always been a variation on a smiling Black woman, which itself was based on the long-held "Mammy" stereotype, a Black woman with dark skin and a bright white smile. Following years of minor tweaks, the first significant overhaul of the logo came in 1989, which marked the brand's 100th anniversary. To commemorate the occasion company attempted to give her a more sophisticated look. Her head-covering was removed, she was given gold-trimmed pearl earrings and her plain white collar was replaced with lace.

While older versions of the character still appear on packages abroad, the more 1989 redesign is still featured on products in the U.S. for now. Quaker Oats made it clear that it aims to have the name and design overhaul completed by the fall of 2020. It's a decision that was largely praised on social media and had other well-known brands looking to do the same.