On Wednesday, June 17th, Quaker Foods announced it would rebrand the Aunt Jemima products and stop using the logo in response to civil unrest in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. The great-grandson of Anna Short Harrington, the woman who played Aunt Jemima from 1935 to 1954, announced he was angry with Quaker’s decision to change its logo and name on its pancake mix and syrup.
The great-grandson, Larnell Evans Sr. a 66-year-old Marine Corps veteran, told Patch:
“This is an injustice for me and my family. This is part of my history, sir,” Larnell Evans Sr. told me. “The racism they talk about, using images from slavery, that comes from the other side — white people. This company profits off images of our slavery. And their answer is to erase my great-grandmother’s history. A black female. … It hurts.”
The first person to play the character debuted at Chicago’s World’s Fair in 1893. Her name was Nancy Green, who worked as a cook on the South Side, was hired to wear an apron and headscarf while serving pancakes to folks who came to visit the fairgrounds. Ms. Green played the role until she died in 1923.
Anna Short Harrington’s tenure began at the New York State Fair in 1935. She was hired to dress up in the Aunt Jemima character and toured North America, promoting the brand.
Quaker Oats used Harrington’s likeness on products and advertising, and it sent her around the country to serve flapjacks dressed as “Aunt Jemima.” The gig made her a national celebrity.
(…)”She worked for that Quaker Oats for 20 years. She traveled all the way around the United States and Canada making pancakes as Aunt Jemima for them,” he said. “This woman served all those people, and it was after slavery. She worked as Aunt Jemima. That was her job. … How do you think I feel as a black man sitting here telling you about my family history they’re trying to erase?”
The Quaker move is another example of corporations acting first and thinking later in reaction to the George Floyd murder. Similar actions included canceling of the hit shows Cops, and LivePD, the changing of Uncle Ben’s, and Mrs.Butterworth names and logos, along with other moves just like them.
Having been in the corporate marketing world, I find these and other moves amazing. Usually, these kinds of companies don’t make a move without consumer research and then twenty levels of meetings. These moves, however, seem like one senior person made the decision too fast and without really thinking about it. Did these names and images really have to be removed? Did they anger or hurt the African-American community? Who knows? Based on the speed of their announcements, these companies don’t.
Looking back on these brands a decade from now, we will probably learn that the changes did nothing to help racial relations. All they did was help destroy evergreen brands causing people of all races who worked at those companies to lose their jobs.
UPDATE: The owner of Eskimo Pie is changing its name and marketing of the nearly century-old chocolate-covered ice cream bar. There is no word about whether the “moonies” want the name of Moon Pies changed.