Aunt Jemima

Relatives of Aunt Jemima Actresses Express Concern History Will Be Erased With Rebranding

Quaker Oats said that the new packaging will begin to appear in the fall and that a new name will be announced later

In this Aug. 3, 2011, file photo, bottles of PepsiCo Inc. Aunt Jemima syrup are displayed for sale at a ShopRite Holdings Ltd. grocery store in Stratford, Connecticut.
Paul Taggart/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Relatives of former Aunt Jemima spokeswomen say they are concerned that their family history will be erased as Quaker Oats' moves to rebrand the syrup and pancake mix.

"I understand the images that white America portrayed us years ago. They painted themselves Black and they portrayed that as us," Vera Harris, whose great aunt, Lillian Richard, traveled the country promoting the Quaker Oats brand and portraying the Aunt Jemima character for more than 20 years, told NBC News. "I understand what Quaker Oats is doing because I'm Black and I don't want a negative image promoted, however, I just don't want her legacy lost, because if her legacy is swept under the rug and washed away, it's as if she never was a person."

Harris added that Richard was recruited to work for Quaker Oats in the 1920s, during a time when there were "no jobs for Black people, especially Black women."

"She took the job to make an honest living to support herself, touring around at fairs, cooking demonstrations and events," Harris said. "When she came back home, they were proud of her and we're still proud of her."

Quaker Oats announced Wednesday that it would be updating the name and design of its 130-year-old Aunt Jemima brand in recognition of the fact that its "origins are based on a racial stereotype." The first "Aunt Jemima" was introduced at Chicago's World's Fair in 1893 and was portrayed by Nancy Green, a formerly enslaved woman. The brand's design had already changed at least five times, with previous versions including a woman dressed as a minstrel character and wearing a "mammy" kerchief.

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