Aunt Jemima’s image pulled from boxes, putting an end to a story that began in Kentucky

Lucas AulbachLouisville Courier Journal

The Aunt Jemima name and image have been pulled from Quaker Oats’ famed pancake mix boxes, but the basis for the original Aunt Jemima — based on a Kentucky native — hasn’t been pictured for years.

The pancake syrup company Aunt Jemima is changing its name and imaging in the wake of renewed calls for racial equality. 

The Quaker Oats-owned company said Wednesday that the iconic Aunt Jemima figure on its packaging is “based on a racial stereotype” and acknowledged that its prior work to update the character was “not enough.”

“We will continue the conversation by gathering diverse perspectives from both our organization and the Black community to further evolve the brand,” said Kristin Kroepfl, vice president and chief marketing officer of Quaker Foods North America, in a statement sent to USA TODAY. The move was reported earlier by NBC News and Adweek.

Shoppers will start to see new packaging at the grocery store without the Aunt Jemima image in the fourth quarter of this year. The company’s new name for the syrup and other products will be announced soon after. 

By 1989, the image of Aunt Jemima had evolved into more of a working mom, its present-day logo.

Following the news of Aunt Jemima’s future evolution, two other iconic brands, Uncle Ben’s and Mrs. Butterworth’s, announced that they were also looking at making changes.

Nancy Green, a Civil War-era slave from Mount Sterling, was the inspiration for the first Aunt Jemima, the Black woman who has served as the face of the brand for more than 100 years. Quaker announced in June 2020 that it would remove her image, which was later based on other models in the decades after Green’s appearance, from its pancake mix boxes and changing the brand name in an acknowledgment that the image is “based on a racial stereotype.”

“We will continue the conversation by gathering diverse perspectives from both our organization and the Black community to further evolve the brand,” Kristin Kroepfl, vice president and chief marketing officer of Quaker Foods North America, said in a statement sent to the USA TODAY Network.

In February 2021, Quaker Oats announced the pancake mix and other products would be renamed “Pearl Milling Company,” a nod to the brand’s past. The new name and logo will begin appearing on packages in June.

Born a slave in Kentucky in 1834, Green lived in Mount Sterling throughout the Civil War and relocated to Chicago when the conflict ended. There, she became a cook for Judge Charles Walker, who recommended she represent R.T. Davis Milling Company’s pancake mix, according to Marilyn Kern-Foxworth’s book, “Blacks in Advertising, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.” Her fame grew after appearing at Chicago’s World’s Fair in 1893 before she died in 1923.

One rendition of Nancy Green’s portrait as Aunt Jemima. Quaker Oats bought the brand in 1926.

The first Aunt Jemima image was based on Green when the brand was formed in 1889. She was shown with a wide smile and wearing a bandana in her hair, an image that faced criticism for years as it was accused of encouraging racist stereotypes. In 1989, the image was revamped, with the new model wearing pearl earrings with curly hair.

A lawsuit filed in 2014 by the descendants of Anna Harrington, who was used as a model for Aunt Jemima after Green, claimed Quaker Oats and parent company PepsiCo “made false promises to Nancy Green” and Harrington, and exploited the pair, who they said were critical in creating the pancake mix recipe. The $2 million lawsuit was thrown out in 2015.

Aunt Jemima will no longer appear on packaging at the grocery store in the fourth quarter of 2021, and a new name for Quaker’s products will be announced soon after.

USA TODAY’s Dalvin Brown contributed to this report. Lucas Aulbach can be reached at laulbach@courier-journal.com, 502-582-4649 or on Twitter @LucasAulbach. Support strong local journalism and subscribe: courier-journal.com/lucasa.View Comments

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