The 'Aunt Jemima' Brand Is Based On A Real Person, And Her Name Is Nancy Green

  • Quaker Oat is retiring the Aunt Jemima brand to “make progress toward racial equality.”
  • Aunt Jemima is based on a real woman, Nancy Green, who was a storyteller, cook, and missionary worker.
  • Nancy Green actually worked with the Aunt Jemima brand until 1923.

After years of criticism that the Aunt Jemima label is a caricature of Black women and promoted racist stereotypes, Quaker Oats is finally taking action. The company announced this week that it’s retiring the Aunt Jemima brand.

“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,” the company said in a statement to CNN.

Quaker Oats didn’t mention it, but the change seems to be tied to a viral TikTok from @singkirbysing in which the singer details “how to make a non-racist breakfast.” In the TikTok, Kirby talks about the history behind the Aunt Jemima brand, and ends with,“Not today. Black Lives Matter, people,” as she dumps a box of Aunt Jemima pancake mix down the sink.

How To Make A Non Racist Breakfast. #blacklivesmatter #endracism #endracism2020 #blackvoicesheard #blackwomen #allblacklivesmatter Kolors

This wasn’t the first time the Aunt Jemima logo came under criticism. In a 2015 opinion piece for the New York Times, Cornell University professor Riché Richardson said the logo was “very much linked to Southern racism” because it was based on a “‘mammy,’ a devoted and submissive servant who eagerly nurtured the children of her white master and mistress while neglecting her own.”

So, what exactly is the history behind Aunt Jemima, and was the controversial character based on a real person? Here’s everything you need to know:

Aunt Jemima was based on a caricature that a real Black woman, Nancy Green, was hired to portray.

According to the Aunt Jemima website, Aunt Jemima was first “brought to life” by Nancy Green, a woman they ID as a “storyteller, cook, and missionary worker.” The brand’s name, though, is based off of a song called “Old Aunt Jemima,” which wasfrom a minstrel show performer and reportedly sung by slaves, according to CNN. (The website neglects to mention that Nancy Green was born a slave.)

Learn more about the real story behind the Aunt Jemima brand:

Nancy Green was one of the first Black corporate storytellers in the U.S.

Nancy didn’t come up with the Aunt Jemima recipe, but she became the first living trademark in the advertising world, according to the African American Registry (AAREG).

Nancy was born into slavery.

Nancy was born a slave in Kentucky. She was recruited by the R.T. Davis Milling Company, who bought the Aunt Jemima formula and brand, when she was 56.

Watch this to learn more about Nancy Green’s life:

Nancy regularly promoted the Aunt Jemima brand.

At the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, Nancy demonstrated the pancake mix and served thousands of pancakes. Her warm personality made her a hit and she became so popular that special police officers were assigned to her booth to keep the crowds moving, the AAREG says. She was given a medal and certificate by fair officials for her performance.

Nancy signed a lifetime contract to promote Aunt Jemima.

Afterward, she traveled on promotional tours across the country, the AAREG reports. Suddenly, pancakes became hugely popular. Nancy stayed in the job until she died in a car crash in 1923.

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