AUNT JEMIMA: THE MOST BATTERED WOMAN IN AMERICA RISES TO THE TOP
The myth of the strong black woman is the other side of the coin of the myth of the beautiful dumb blonde. The white man turned … the black woman into a strong self-reliant Amazon and deposited her in his kitchen—that’s the secret of Aunt Jemima’s bandanna.
Eldridge Cleaver (Soul on Ice, 1968, p. 162)
Aunt Jemima has been invited to have breakfast with millions of families all over the world, and in 1989 she had been doing so for 100 years.
As a trademark, Aunt Jemima has been a familiar part of American culture and has been woven into the mainstream of the American advertising industry. Traditionally, Aunt Jemima and other blacks were depicted in very stereotypical advertising modes, none more pervasive than that of servant and caretaker. “There was Old Uncle Tom or Uncle Remus, Aunt Jemima or Mandy the maid, Preacher Brown and Deacon Jones, Rastus and Sambo, and the ol’ mammy” (Lemmons, 1977).
Ever since advertising became instrumental in the selling of ideas, services, and products, blacks have been used to increase their recognizability. Steven Heller (1982, p. 102), author of Racist Ephemera: The Melting Pot Reconsidered, describes the integration of blacks into American society following the abolishment of slavery well:
The growing pains of this young nation—exacerbated by the very melting pot policy it encouraged—were manifest in a populace uncomfortable with the new foreign inhabitants and in a government undeniably ill-equipped to deal with an alien native population and with new freed slaves.
Nowhere are these upsetting chapters of history and the emotions it conjures up revealed more profoundly than in the mass-produced popular art of the period— advertising, trade cards, posters, product labels, trademarks. Through commonplace, highly visible, graphic, racial and ethnic stereotypes a vivid picture—sometimes precarious, often comic—materializes of a country fraught with class, religious and racial prejudice.
Verta Mae (1972) offers a historical viewpoint relative to the concept of Aunt Jemima as a servant and suggests that the foundation for her birth dates back to ancient Rome and Europe. She defines Aunt Jemima within the context of the preparation and serving of foods by blacks to whites from a historical context and suggests that it was common practice for royalty to have black male and female servants. Consequently, the price of black slaves in Rome was higher than for whites sold at slave markets. She also maintains that in the 1600s European women walked young blacks like they now walk poodles. This assumption is corroborated by Rogers (1952), who wrote the following: “Ladies of fashion appeared in public each with a monkey dressed in an embroidered jacket and a little black slave boy wearing a turban and baggy silk pantaloons.”
Verta Mae further maintains that the Moors or people of color have historically been valued by whites as servants: “Black women have been preferred as wet nurses to the big boys as well as the babies; and the Roman women resented that fact to the extent that there were many abuses to the Moorish women by the Roman ladies.” Within this frame of reference she suggests that the placing of blacks, both Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben, on the boxes of various food products is a “cultural hangover from this earlier era” (Jewell, 1976, p. 113).
Blacks were used extensively during the post-slavery era because they reinforced the stereotype of the docile servant who was always ready to serve humbly. Whether consciously or unconsciously conceived, advertising was a structured mechanism that eroded the self-esteem of blacks and kept them powerless. “Early advertising was the strongest medium through which American white businessmen could express their feelings toward American blacks and seek to keep control over those people they considered their slaves” (Reno, 1986, p. 1).
Arthur Marquette (1967) notes, “The American Negro has always represented in American life the acme of the culinary arts, respected as in France are the chefs who belong to the Société Gastronomique.” He further asserts that Southern hospitality during slavery was defined and influenced by black cooks and chefs and that “blacks become enmeshed in the folklore in America as the ultimate experts in cookery.” Jewell (1976, p. 138) suggests that “it is from this legend that Aunt Jemima pancake flour capitalized upon and exploited black women” (p. 114).
Another theory posited offers a different reason for why blacks were the central figures in so much advertising from the end of the Civil War to the early 1940s:
Blacks in advertising soon became a sales gimmick, a device to improve sales; they were the come-ons in ads to promote the sales of gardening or farming tools, janitorial equipment, and foods.
It was an often-inbred belief among whites that because of their antebellum experience, blacks were the master gardeners, farmers, unskilled laborers, and cooks. If a black said such a product was good, the white Northerner reasoned it must be so. From such thinking there emerged Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben. (Brasch, 1981, pp. 114–115)
By the turn of the 20th century Aunt Jemima and other stereotypes were an integral part of American culture. They were so familiar and so accepted that few people, black or white, protested how denigrating they were to black Americans, especially to black women. “Most people thought the caricatures were simply funny. They laughed with good humor, but their sense of humor revealed a pervasive lack of sensitivity. The images were spread and maintained in advertising cards, songs from Tin Pan Alley, phonograph records, children’s books, cartoons, magazine ads, Valentine’s and postcards” (Lemmons, 1977, p. 103). All of these items were used to promote the image of blacks as docile, subservient, and laughable characters.
A thorough examination of images like Aunt Jemima provides not only a kaleidoscopic look into American commercial culture, but illustrates the relationship between minority and majority societies. Although scholars have theorized that the subordinate position into which blacks have been categorized is rooted in an ideology of black inferiority, “what is less well known is that American popular culture has been an important vehicle transmission of those ideological notions” (Barnett, 1982, p. 42). Images reflecting blacks in docile and servile roles included Rastus (Cream of Wheat), Uncle Ben, and the Gold Dust Twins, but none was more pervasive than Aunt Jemima. “Whether as a mammy doll or as an advertisement for pancake batter, these artifacts and adornments entered the homes of America and became a part of the American way of life” (Henderson et a1., 1982, p. 19).
THE BEGINNING OF AUNT JEMIMA
The Aunt Jemima trademark had its beginnings in Missouri. Chris L. Rutt, a reporter for the St. Joseph Gazette, and Charles G. Underwood, a mill owner, purchased the Pearl Milling Company in 1888. They then began a relentless search for a product all America would eat (Morgan, 1986, p. 55). “They needed something exclusive and novel. What did almost everybody eat? Pancakes. What consumed a lot of flour? Pancakes. What was difficult to mix with any consistency from one batch to the next? Pancake batter” (Marquette, 1967, p. 140). They also chose pancakes because of the festive spirit that had always been associated with them.
Rutt and Underwood experimented with a combination of various ingredients such as hard wheat flour, corn flour, phosphate of lime, soda, and salt such that when milk was added and the batter cooked, pancakes resulted. They finally perfected the product for which they had been looking, and within a year they produced the first pancake mix (Campbell, 1964, p. 40).
Eager to get the opinion of someone more objective than themselves, they solicited comments from Purd B. Wright, the town librarian. That event was later described like this:
One afternoon, as Wright described the event later, he was escorted by Underwood to the Rutt kitchen. A ready mixed concoction lay in a bowl. As Wright and Underwood watched, Rutt added milk and beat the mixture quickly into a batter. By now the griddle was hot, and circles of bubbly yellow batter were ladled out and browned evenly on both sides. A neat stack, laced with melted butter and sugar syrup, was set before the tester.
“I ate the first perfected Aunt Jemima pancake,” Wright reported, “and pronounced it good” (Marquette, 1967, p. 141). His enthusiasm was so overwhelming that they brought out a bottle of Missouri corn whiskey and toasted the world’s first self-rising pancake.
The founders immediately began to package the mix for sale to the public. The first commercial batch was packaged in paper bags with a generic label, “Self-Rising Pancake Flour,” since the Aunt Jemima name had not yet been conceived.
After the first ready-mix pancake was perfected in 1889 an immediate search began for a symbol that would make the product recognizable by all American housewives. Little did Chris L. Rutt know that his quest for a name and package design for his unprecedented product would be found in an unusual place.
While visiting a vaudeville house in St. Joseph, Missouri, one evening in the autumn of 1889, Rutt saw a team of blackface minstrel comedians known as Baker and Farrell. The high point of the act was a jazzy, rhythmic, New Orleans–style Cakewalk performed to a tune called “Aunt Jemima” (Morgan, 1986, p. 55). The song was originally called “Old Aunt Jemima” and was one of the most popular songs of the day, performed by Billy Kersands, a well-known minstrel, from 1870 to 1900. By 1877 Kersands had performed the song more than 3,000 times and had developed three different improvisational texts for his audiences (Sacharow, 1982, p. 63). One of the most widely sung 1875 versions used these lyrics:
My old missus promise me
Old Aunt Jemima, oh, oh, oh
When she died she’d set me free
Old Aunt Jemima, oh, oh, oh
She lived so long her head got bald
Old Aunt Jemima, oh, oh, oh
She swore she would not die at all
Old Aunt Jemima, oh, oh, oh.
Kersands has been labeled the highest paid black minstrel of his time, his remarkable popularity based partially on his theme song, “Old Aunt Jemima” (Sacharow, 1982, p. 64).
The team of Baker and Farrell, dressed in aprons and red bandannas, was reminiscent of the traditional Southern cook. The song was so captivating that it had the whole town rocking (Campbell, 1964, p. 40). Mesmerized, Rutt knew that the song and costume projected the image for which he had been searching. He decided to mimic it, using not only the name but the likeness of the Southern mammy emblazoned on the lithographed posters advertising the act of Baker and Farrell, thus beginning a new era in advertising. This would be the first time a living person would be used to personify a company’s trademark (Kern-Foxworth, 1988, p. 18).
However, Rutt and Underwood could not raise the necessary capital to promote and market the product effectively. They soon ran out of money. After registering the trademark in 1890, they sold their interests to the R. T. Davis Mill and Manufacturing Company, also of St. Joseph, Missouri. Davis was more financially able to promote the product, having large manufacturing facilities, money, and an established reputation with wholesale and retail grocers throughout the Missouri Valley. A 50-year veteran of the milling business, he designed a promotional campaign that has been revered for years by many advertisers, promoters, and marketers.
The first miracle he performed was to improve the flavor and texture of the product by adding rice flour and corn sugar to the ingredients. The next step would be one of the most important to the success of the Aunt Jemima brand. “He simplified the ready-mix principle by adding powdered milk— an extremely significant simplification” (Kern-Foxworth, 1989a, p. 56). Cooks had only to add water to prepare the batter. With this change in the mixture, Aunt Jemima ushered in the beginning of the convenience foods era. Davis was a master at promotion, and the company flourished under his direction.
Subsequently, after his death in 1900, the company suffered one disaster after another. It declared bankruptcy and was reorganized in 1903 and renamed the Aunt Jemima Mills Company in 1914. A new, more accurate image of Aunt Jemima was adopted by the company in 1917 (Congdon-Martin, 1990, p. 57). In 1919 James Webb Young, manager in Chicago of the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency, revived the company with a series of advertisements. In each the campaign featured vignettes detailing the life of Aunt Jemima.
The market collapse of 1920 damaged the company severely, and it took decades to make a full recovery. The company was sold in January 1926 for $4.2 million to the Quaker Oats Company (Marquette, 1967, pp. 149–50, 152). After the sale the trademark experienced tremendous growth until the depression of the 1930s.
After recovering from the financial strains of the depression, Quaker Oats gained momentum and continued to rise economically. In the 1960s it became a nationally known leader in the frozen food business; among those foods were pancakes, waffles, corn sticks, and cinnamon twists. By the 1960s Quaker Oats was recovering more each year than its original investment. The company continued to be a leader in the breakfast food industry and later introduced the first reduced-calorie syrup and reduced-calorie, microwavable frozen pancakes.
WOMEN WHO HAVE PORTRAYED AUNT JEMIMA
The success experienced by the Aunt Jemima trademark for a century can be attributed in part to the remarkable women who brought the label to life.
R. T. Davis sent requests to all his food broker friends to be on the lookout for a black woman who exemplified Southern hospitality and also had the personality necessary to make Aunt Jemima a household name throughout America (Sacharow, 1982, p. 64). His appeal was answered by Charles Jackson, a Chicago wholesaler, who knew of a black woman who worked for a friend of his, Judge Walker. She was well-known for making delicious pancakes. The woman was Nancy Green, who was born a slave in Montgomery County, Kentucky, in 1834 (McManus, 1991, p. 8). She later moved from Kentucky to Chicago, where she was a cook for Judge Walker and served as a nurse for his two sons.
Davis contacted Green and confirmed Jackson’s appraisal. “She was a magnificent cook, an attractive woman of outgoing nature and friendly personality, gregarious in the extreme” (Sacharow, 1982, p. 145). She was the perfect person to bring the Aunt Jemima trademark to life. Meeting with high approval from all of the company officials, Green was signed to an exclusive contract which would give her the right to impersonate Aunt Jemima for the rest of her life (“Did You Know… ?,” 1989, p. 142).
On the brink of bankruptcy, the executives of the company decided to risk their entire fortune on a promotional exhibition featuring Nancy Green at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago (Sacharow, 1982, pp. 64, 65).
Davis Milling constructed the world’s largest flour barrel, 24 feet high and 16 feet in diameter. Doors were mounted in the side, and the interior was fitted out as a reception parlor to entertain visitors. Outside the barrel, near the front, was Nancy Green in the persona of Aunt Jemima. She cooked pancakes, sang songs, and told stories of the Old South while greeting fair visitors. She had served more than a million pancakes by the time the fair ended, and more than 50,000 orders were placed for Aunt Jemima Pancake Mix from countries all over the world (Marquette, 1967, pp. 145, 146).
Nancy Green’s dramatization of Aunt Jemima was such a huge success that special details of policemen were assigned to keep the crowds moving at the Davis exhibit. In recognition of her triumphant debut, Green was awarded a medal and certificate from fair organizers, who proclaimed her the Pancake Queen (Marquette, 1967, p. 146). She traveled around the country demonstrating Aunt Jemima pancake mix at fairs, food shows, and festivals. “She made a wide itinerary through the United States and Canada, and an aggressive advertising campaign of national proportions was undertaken.” She was asked to attend the Paris Exposition in 1900, but refused to go on the ocean voyage. “I was born in this country,” she said, “and here I’ll die, not somewhere betwixt here and somewhere else” (Marquette, 1967, p. 146).
When not touring the United States and Canada as Aunt Jemima, Green lived on the south side of Chicago. She was one of the founders of Olivet Church, one of the largest Baptist congregations in the world. She remained a representative of the Davis Milling Company until her death on September 23, 1923, when she was fatally struck by a car in Chicago.
No one portrayed Aunt Jemima for ten years following the death of Nancy Green. In 1933 Anna Robinson made her debut as Aunt Jemima at the Chicago Century of Progress Exposition.
As Aunt Jemima, Robinson will forever be remembered in the annals of Quaker Oats history. “Never to be forgotten was the day they loaded 350 pounds of Anna Robinson on the Twentieth Century Limited and sent her to New York in the custody of the Lord and Thomas Advertising Agency to pose for pictures” (Kern-Foxworth, 1990, p. 59). An entire campaign was designed around her association with a parade of stars. She had personal appearances and posed with Hollywood celebrities at some of the most famous places, including El Morocco, “21”, the Stork Club, and the Waldorf-Astoria. Everywhere Robinson went, she was photographed making pancakes for luminaries from motion pictures, radio, and Broadway. The advertisements derived from those photography sessions “ranked among the highest read of their time” (Marquette, 1967, p. 154).
The officials at Quaker Oats were so impressed with the advertisements using Robinson that they commissioned Haddon Sunblom, a nationally known commercial artist, to paint a portrait of her. The Aunt Jemima package was redesigned around the new likeness. Robinson stayed on the Quaker Oats Company payroll until her death in 1951.
Edith Wilson gained national notoriety as the motherly face on Aunt Jemima advertising materials. A classic blues singer from Chicago, she came from a well-educated family in Louisville (Harley and Terborg-Penn, 1978, p. 71). Her performances were not limited entirely to blues, though, as she also was a recorded vaudeville performer. She often noted that her family was very supportive of her career aspirations and appeared in concerts throughout the country. She further appeared on the “Amos ’n’ Andy” and “Great Guildersleeve” radio serials during the 1940s. Her most famous movie was To Have and Have Not, starring Humphrey Bogart (Young, 1988, p. 10).
Quaker Oats capitalized on Wilson’s outgoing personality and had her portray Aunt Jemima on radio, television, and in personal appearances all over the United States from 1948 to 1966. According to Derrick Stewart-Baxter (1970), she was the first Aunt Jemima featured on TV commercials, and although she received support from her family, “her appearance as Aunt Jemima on early commercials was criticized as demeaning” (p. 31).
Wilson died on March 30, 1981, after suffering a stroke. She lived in Chicago from the 1950s until her death.
Ethel Ernestine Harper
Ethel Ernestine Harper was featured as Aunt Jemima in advertising campaigns during the 1950s. She graduated from college at 17 and taught school for a while before portraying Aunt Jemima. Additionally, she starred in the theatrical productions The Hot Macado and the Negro Follies and sang with the Three Ginger Snaps while touring Europe. She died in Morristown, New Jersey, in April 1981.
For 17 years Rosie Lee Moore Hall captured the attention of the world in the persona of Aunt Jemima. Born in Robertson County, Texas, in 1900, Hall was a native of the community of Pin Oak, located between Hearne and Wheelock. She married Ollie Chambers at age 17 and remained in Pin Oak (Kern-Foxworth, 1988, p. 17). She left Hearne in her late 20s when her marriage failed, losing contact with her family for 19 years. By then she had made Oklahoma City her home and was working for Quaker Oats (Bullock, 1987).
While working in the advertising department of Quaker Oats she learned of the search for a new Aunt Jemima. According to family and friends, she perfectly exemplified the trademark, which was why her round smiling face adorned Aunt Jemima products for almost two decades (Kern-Foxworth, 1991, p. 31).
From 1950 to 1967 Hall continued the tradition started by other Aunt Jemimas and traveled the country showing off her culinary talents by making melt-in-your-mouth pancakes. She was at her best when she was cooking pancakes. And cook pancakes she did: at world’s fairs and annually at the Texas State Fair; everywhere she went, she jovially served her syrup and buckwheat cakes. During her last years at Quakers Oats, Hall told her family she was excited about a new syrup recipe she was creating.
Hall was the oldest girl of 14 children, and was always outgoing. After she began the role of Aunt Jemima, her family looked forward to her annual visit home during Christmas. They would gather at the family home and sing Christmas carols, while Hall would talk about her experiences as Aunt Jemima. Her sisters say she was perfect for the job because she liked people so much. Her family never saw any of her official demonstrations, but they were always delighted when she returned home, because she would cook her famous pancakes for them.
The last time she visited was Christmas 1966. Two months later she suffered a heart attack on her way to church and died on February 12, 1967. An elaborate funeral was held in Oklahoma City, and she was buried in the family plot in the Colony Cemetery near Wheelock, Texas.
Although she died over a quarter of a century ago, Hall had no grave marker until 1988. A special ceremony was held May 7, 1988, and her grave was declared a historical landmark.
Hall’s reign as Aunt Jemima is significant because she was the last “living” Aunt Jemima.
Aylene Lewis portrayed Aunt Jemima at the eponymous restaurant at Disneyland, which opened in 1955. Because it was such a popular eating place at the park, it was refurbished in June 1962. In the eight years prior to the remodeling the restaurant had served pancakes to 1.6 million guests (Marquette, 1967, p. 137). Lewis became well known for serving pancakes to dignitaries.
Clad in her bandanna and matching skirt and shawl, she posed for pictures with many visitors to Disneyland. She received souvenir pictures and letters “from all over the world, in all languages and from all races and creeds” (p. 157). Indian Prime Minister Nehru’s normal calm turned to animation as he posed with Lewis’s hand clasped in his. Quite a celebrity herself, she was also at ease in front of television cameras. She also developed a close relationship with Walt Disney. Lewis died in 1964, after posing as the Disneyland Aunt Jemima from 1957 to 1964.
From 1951 until the early 1960s, there were many Aunt Jemima’s working simultaneously. They appeared at supermarkets, trade shows, and other promotional events and became recognized as the first organized sales promotion campaign, thus initiating an innovative strategy in advertising and serving as one of the first campaigns to create “an image.”
Glenn Williams, Sr., chairman of the board and founder of First Federal Savings of Bryan, Texas, vividly remembers Aunt Jemima’s demonstrations—an annual event sponsored by the Quaker Oats Company—in the family’s grocery story, Williams IGA, in downtown Bryan. Anna Robinson would come to the store one Saturday a year. “Farmers came into town once a week on Saturdays back then [during the 40s], before there was a race issue,” he says. “It was more like a social gathering. She had a good personality and was pretty good at getting people interested in the pancakes” (Williams, 1987).
His son, businessman Glenn Williams, Jr., echoes the sentiments of his father. One of the highlights of his childhood years was the appearance of Aunt Jemima at his father’s store. People would stand around talking and laughing with her as the aroma of pancakes filled the air. The younger Williams laughed as he recalled that “the grown-ups usually sampled one pancake, but the children managed to get more.” Grinning, he added that “those pancakes were the best I had ever eaten in my life” (Williams, 1987).
Some of the women who portrayed Aunt Jemima gained national stature, others did not, but all helped Americans learn to love Aunt Jemima pan-cakes. The women became so famous that several legends were created to document their success.
AUNT JEMIMA LEGENDS
Among the promotional tactics used by Quaker Oats was the marketing of legends about the miraculous power of Aunt Jemima’s pancakes. One of the vehicles used to promote these myths was the napkins used at the Aunt Jemima Restaurant. According to one story printed on the napkins, Aunt Jemima was a mammy cook, famous throughout the South in those glorious days before the War. Her master, Colonel Higbee, was owner of a vast plantation at Higbee’s Landing on the Mississippi River. The colonel was known for his extraordinary hospitality, which was enhanced because of pan-cakes served by his cook—Aunt Jemima. “Her pancakes, cooked from a secret recipe, made her the envy of many Southern cooks.” As the tale goes, Aunt Jemima sold her recipe to the R. T. Davis Mill Company in St. Joseph, Missouri (Lambert, 1976, p. 57).
Another legend suggests that Aunt Jemima saved the life of Colonel Higbee. When Northern soldiers were about to pluck his mustache out by the roots, Aunt Jemima offered them some of her pancakes. Their attention was so diverted by the good taste that the troops forgot all about the colonel, and he escaped with every hair intact.
“A Southern officer and his adjutant,” relates another story, “separated from their troops after a battle, reached Aunt Jemima’s cabin door dejected and exhausted.” She served them her pancakes, which rapidly returned them to a state of excellent health. They told others of their good fortune, and from that time on hundreds of soldiers came by to get samples of her pancakes. One of these soldiers returned after the war with some friends from the North to prove to them that Aunt Jemima cooked the most delicious pancakes in the world. They persuaded her to share her delicious recipe with the world.
The story of Aunt Jemima, whom we know as Pancake Queen,
Starts on an Old Plantation, in a charming Southern scene.
Here folks grow sweet magnolias and cotton in the sun,
And life was filled with happiness and old-time Southern fun.
The owner, Colonel Higbee, a most kind and gracious host,
Served his guests fine dishes, though they liked his pancakes most.
Of course, the cook who made them—or so the legend goes—
Was good old Aunt Jemima, as our pretty picture shows.
Aunt Jemima’s pancake fame
soon spread throughout the South.
Folks loved that fluffy tenderness
that melted in yo’ mouth.
Girls crowded ’round Jemima,
in their dainty crinolines,
And oh! Those Southern Colonels,
you should have seen their grins!
They begged our Aunt Jemima
for her secret recipe
And, being nice and generous,
she gave it to them free.
Those Southern belles and Colonels
soon were serving piled-up plates
Of luscious Aunt Jemimas
throughout the Southern states!
A Mississippi steamboat…
Emily Dunstan was her name…
Then burned up on the river,
in a mass of smoke and flame.
This terrible experience,
which might have been so tragic,
Had a Happy Ending,
thanks to Aunt Jemima’s magic.
She served the cold, wet children
and the husbands and their wives,
Steaming stacks of pancakes,
so she helped to save their lives.
Then a Yankee in the party…
a Northern Business man…
Took her recipe up North with him…
and her world-wide fame began.
A series of these phony legends were used in an advertising campaign designed and implemented by James Webb Young, manager of the Chicago branch of J. Walter Thompson. Young used his memorable experiences of growing up in Covington, Kentucky, as the son of a Mississippi riverboat captain to structure a scenario in the minds of customers and position the Aunt Jemima product as the front runner in its class of breakfast foods.
Young’s advertisements were illustrated by the eminent artist N. C. Wyeth in 1919. The series had a dominant theme centered around the Americana of the deep South and was representative of a new style of advertising. One carried the heading “The Night the Emily Burned,” and showed an awestruck Aunt Jemima watching a Mississippi riverboat burn to the water line. The text told how the grateful passengers found their way ashore to her cabin, where they were delighted by her pancakes. Another told of “The Visitors from the North,” four enterprising gentlemen who threaded their way to Aunt Jemima’s cabin door to negotiate with her for her famous recipe. Finally, another in the series told how Aunt Jemima became convinced and went North to begin a new career working for the Yankee millers, and thus came to belong to the whole United States.
The legends became a part of American folklore and helped create the Aunt Jemima mystique. They became an important part of the advertising campaigns and thus helped in the successful implementation of promotional strategy.
THE PROMOTIONAL STRATEGY
R. T. Davis masterminded the promotional strategy that set the Aunt Jemima trademark and products apart from all others in its category. Because of his ingenuity the Aunt Jemima name has maintained a first-place status for a century. Many premiums have been offered to customers in return for their loyalty and trust, but none received such acclaim as the Aunt Jemima rag doll, coveted by little girls throughout America. The company boasts that “literally every city child owned one” (Marquette, 1967, p. 148). The phenomenon can be equated to the craze of owning a Cabbage Patch doll several years ago.
Following the lead of other breakfast manufacturers, Davis offered box-top premiums, which became one the most famous in merchandising history. For one trademark (referred to today as a proof of purchase seal) and only five cents, customers received an Aunt Jemima rag doll. One advertisement in the Ladies Home Journal in October 1918 read as follows:
Send for these jolly rag dolls
Send one Aunt Jemima box top (Pancake or Buckwheat Flour) with only five cents in stamps and get one of the famous Aunt Jemima Rag Dolls. Or send four tops and only fifteen cents for Aunt Jemima and Uncle Mose, and two cunning pickaninnies. In bright colors, ready to cut out and stuff. Aunt Jemima Mills Company, St. Joseph, Missouri.
The rag doll concept was the renewal of a promotional strategy tried in 1895, when the pancake mix was sold in cartons rather than one-pound sacks. To bring notoriety to the product Davis printed cutout paper doll Aunt Jemimas on the cartons. The gimmick was very successful and was revived a decade later when the company was facing financial ruin. The Aunt Jemima rag doll saga continued, and employees of Quaker Oats reminisced:
The Aunt Jemima rag doll emerged, renewing itself year after year until an entire family of rag dolls had been created, featuring Uncle Mose and two moppets, Diana and Wade. Just before the Quaker Oats Company acquired Aunt Jemima, the rag doll was offered again in an advertisement in a women’s magazine. The flood of requests almost swamped the sponsor. Almost every woman who answered the advertisement said that she had been raised on the Aunt Jemima dolls and now wanted them for her daughter. (Marquette, 1967, p. 148)
Other manufacturers decided to capitalize on the success of Aunt Jemima and introduced other dolls with similar characteristics: a round, smiling face exuding warmth and friendliness attired in domestic regalia. Johana Gast Anderson (1979, pp. 44–48) noted in More Twentieth Century Dolls from Bisque to Vinyl that at least five generations of black women were modeled after the original Aunt Jemima dolls.
According to Doris Wilkinson, who wrote in great detail about Aunt Jemima toys in Images of Blacks in American Culture (1988, p. 283), there were several dolls molded in the Aunt Jemima image. “Appearing in the 1890s, this doll was typically fat with a round, smiling face and was customarily attired in a domestic outfit” (Pantovic, 1974, p. 282). Most of the black dolls that were not depicted as Europeans were characterized in the traditional Aunt Jemima format; equipped with an apron, they were most often quite heavy-set with thick red lips and that ever-present broad-toothed smile. The “Cake Walker” mechanical toys and the “Mechanical Nurse” advertised in Marshall Field catalogs during the 1890s were cast in this mode as well. “Repeatedly, the images were rooted in stereotyped conceptions of women of African ancestry” (Wilkinson, 1988, p. 283).
The strategies used by the company’s advertising and marketing departments were very effective and became one of the reasons the product became so well accepted by the public. Over the 100-year period the owners have issued many premiums in an attempt to promote the product. “The Aunt Jemima Pancake Flour Company used quite a few different objects in their promotion, all of which depicted the jolly black woman in her red turban. Salt and pepper shakers, cookie jars, plastic and cardboard items, even a pottery set of kitchen condiment holders made by the Weller Pottery Company were given away in their promotions” (Reno, 1986, p. 5.
The syrup pitcher was among the first items given to customers with the purchase of pancake mix. According to accounts by the F. and F. (Fielder and Fielder) Mold and Die Works Company of Dayton, Ohio (Reno, 1986, p. 12), the idea for the pitcher was created over a luncheon date in Chicago when the F. and F. company manager met with a representative from Quaker Oats to discuss the promotional service F. and F. could provide. During the ensuing conversation, a sketch of an Aunt Jemima pitcher was drawn on the tablecloth and was used as the prototype for the original (Greenwood, 1988, p. 12). The success of the pitcher set the stage for the introduction of a long line of related items.
The syrup pitcher was available during the early 1950s, and more than a million were distributed before they were discontinued (Marquette, 1967, p. 149). The rest of the series consisted of a cookie jar, salt and pepper shakers also featuring Uncle Mose, a six-piece Aunt Jemima spice set, an Uncle Mose creamer, and an Aunt Jemima sugar bowl with a lid. These items were favorites as premiums until the early 1960s (Greenwood, 1988, p. 12).
All the Aunt Jemima premiums were made of plastic, not celluloid as commonly believed. They were all painted with black faces and arms with the exception of the cookie jar, whose face and arms were painted brown in later years. Collectors have found the brown face to be much more scarce than the black. Today the premiums command high prices at auctions, flea markets, and antique shops across the country.
Because of the popularity of the premiums, reproductions have been manufactured by F. and F. Mold and Die. But these products are not the “real McCoy,” as all of the original premiums offered are stamped with the Aunt Jemima logo.
The Quaker Oats Company has not kept complete records of the variety of premiums offered by the company for the past 100 years. “There are no old catalogs that would list them; in fact no records exist for current premium items. The company does, however, have records verifying the salt and pepper shakers, a cream and sugar set, a cookie jar and an antique bowl presumably offered in 1956” (Greenwood, 1988, p. 12).
During the civil rights movement the Aunt Jemima product line was discontinued because of objections from blacks who viewed the images as derogatory and denigrating. “These items of material culture gave a physical reality to ideas of racial inferiority. They were the props that helped reinforce the racist ideology that emerged after Reconstruction” (Goings, 1990, p. B76). Before being discontinued, the premiums had become a part of the mystique that made the trademark one of the most popular of all time.
THE POPULARITY OF AUNT JEMIMA
A souvenir booklet published by the R. T. Davis Milling Company reflected the popularity of Aunt Jemima after her appearance at the 1893 World’s Fair. The pamphlet was titled The Life of Aunt Jemima, the Most Famous Colored Woman in the World.
An article in The Poster, a trade magazine for outdoor advertisers which existed around the turn of the century, reported that Aunt Jemima and the Armour meat chef were the two symbols most trusted by the American housewife (Sacharow, 1982, p. 62). In fact, few food trademarks rivaled them. Their familiarity was often extolled by the advertising industry, the general public, and the companies that represented them. But what exactly made her so popular? It certainly wasn’t her good looks. Some writers have posited that Aunt Jemima’s appeal centered around her inability to attract any attention from “Massa.” Another writer sarcastically suggests that Aunt Jemima’s “appeal as a product representative combined nostalgia for lifelong black servitude with modern convenience. Just add a Dixie cupful of water to the pancake mix and presto, access to soul food no longer required integration” (Campbell, 1989, p. 46).
Because of the advertising savvy and shrewd public relations campaigns masterminded by the owners of the Aunt Jemima trademark, the brand experienced extraordinary recognition and recall nationwide. By 1910 the Aunt Jemima trademark was known in every state (Campbell, 1964, p. 41). It was also estimated that by 1918 more than 120 million Aunt Jemima breakfasts were being served annually, according to a Ladies Home Journal ad of October 1918.
The trademark unquestionably has become a part of the fabric of America. In fact it could be argued that the phrase “as American as apple pie and baseball” should be expanded to “as American as apple pie, baseball, and Aunt Jemima.” One writer comments that “of all the trademarks, Aunt Jemima is by far one of the most appealing and most expressive” (Sacharow, 1982, p. 63).
Despite the success of the Aunt Jemima trademark, the brand did not always have the Midas touch, and failed when “Quaker jumped into the field of packaged cake mixes” (Marquette, 1967, p. 155). After World War II the name was put on two flavors of cake mix distributed to limited areas. Officials at Quaker Oats are still baffled by their failure.
The company tested the cake market again ten years later with ultra-convenient preparations for corn bread and coffee cake. These met with more favorable response and are among the many products carrying the registered trademark today.
Although the Aunt Jemima trademark was not registered until 1903 by Bert Underwood, brother of Charles, it has been used since 1889. Her popularity is so pervasive that others have sought to copy the Aunt Jemima name and image, but the company has been successful in upholding all rights. The last recorded court challenge was in 1917.
However, the trademark has been contested from an ethical standpoint by a different group—black consumers.
THE ANATOMY OF A STEREOTYPE
A historical perspective on the origination of stereotyping will show how it has been applied to blacks and how important it is that the effects of stereotyping be understood as they apply to Aunt Jemima.
The term stereotype was coined by a Frenchman named Didot in 1798. Stereotyping was associated with a printing mechanism that consisted of a plate upon which letters had been cast to create a permanent and unchangeable record (Gordon, 1961). Around 1824 the term was applied in a metaphorical sense because of its association with consistency and monotony.
It was introduced to the general public by Walter Lippmann in 1926. He described it as “an ordered more or less consistent picture of the world to which our habits, our capacities, our comforts and our hopes have adjusted themselves… , it is a form of perception which implies a certain character on the data of our senses before the data reach intelligence” (Lippmann, 1926).
F. H. Allport seems to take the concept of stereotype as an attitude a step further and suggests that stereotyping is synonymous with prejudice and can be described as “an oversimplified experience resulting in attitude.” (Allport, 1924).
J. Bowes, in his study on “Stereotyping and Communication Accuracy,” says stereotypes are images that are fixed and extreme despite changing events (Bowes, 1977).
In a report of the Ninety-fifth Congress on “Age Stereotyping and Television,” stereotypes are defined as “simplified, inaccurate conceptions or images which have standardized and are commonly held” (House Select Committee on Aging, 1977).
A commonly accepted definition of stereotypes suggests that they are “the sets of traits that are used to explain and predict the behavior of members of socially defined groups” (Miller, 1982, p. 92). Joseph Boskin of Boston University, who has studied the stereotypical portrayals of black males as “Sambos,” defines a stereotype as “a standardized mental picture, or series of pictures, representing an oversimplified opinion or an uncritical judgment that is staggeringly tenacious in its hold over rational thinking” (Martindale, 1986, p. 57).
Based on these definitions, stereotyping results in perception of an extreme consistent nature. It allows for little variation within the target it defines. For purposes of this analysis, a stereotype will be defined as a consistent representation of blacks in advertising via words, images, and situations that ultimately suggests that all members of the race are the same (Kern-Foxworth, 1982, p. 48).
Some researchers theorize that stereotypes may be favorable or pejorative, and thus they may be supported by facts or be false (Ogawa, 1971).
The stereotypes associated with Aunt Jemima are considered negative by most blacks. In fact, this designation has not been confined to blacks, and most social scientists agree that the traditional stereotypes associated with racial and ethnic groups are negative and normally portray those groups in an unfavorable light. “The chief problem with stereotypes of ethnic [and racial] groups is that one character (e.g., Uncle Tom or Fu Manchu) is allowed to stand for a whole diverse collection of human beings” (Farquhar and Doe, 1978). This is particularly true in the case of Aunt Jemima, who is nationally well-known.
Much research has been conducted with special emphasis on the stereotypes associated with blacks. Researchers feel that negative stereotypes hinder the upward mobility of blacks in many ways.
The International Association of Business Communicators published a book, Without Bias: A Guidebook for Non-Discriminatory Communications, which makes this comment on stereotyping: “When stereotypic words and images and culturally or racially biased standards appear, they actually perpetuate ethnic and racial bias and inadvertently work against affirmative action goals and policies forbidding discrimination” (Roberts, 1977, p. 6).
Researchers have also found that the mass media play a vital role in the perpetuation of stereotypes. Richard Carter, in his 1962 study on stereotyping, asserts that “the mass media can produce structural change directly by increasing homogeneity of attributes.”
Needless to say, the stereotyping of minority groups by the mass media may have negative results. The portrayal of minorities in negative roles provides negative role models for both the minority and the majority and increases the distance between the two, making communication more difficult. Joseph Boskin extends the analysis by suggesting that once a stereotype of a group is solidly etched into American folklore, it becomes permanently “embedded in people’s minds and profoundly affects thoughts and actions” (Martindale, 1986, p. 57).
Thus, the stereotypes associated with blacks, earlier versions of Aunt Jemima being among them, have been detrimental and have been influential in developing behavior patterns exhibited by dominant groups toward blacks. The impact of the insidious images presented of black women by the mass media was noted most recently by Audrey Edwards:
The medium is not only the message; it shapes the image, and four of the most powerful media in the last half of the 20th century—television, advertising, music videos and the press itself—have exerted the greatest impact on how black women not only are seen, but have come to view themselves. The message and the image haven’t changed much during the black woman’s history in America. Both perpetuate the stereotypes. (Edwards, 1993, p. 216)
American popular culture has contained blatant stereotypical depictions of the black woman for a long time. The impact of such images is succinctly explained by Kathleen Jamieson and Karlyn Campbell in The Interplay of Influence (1988), wherein they write:
Stereotypes are powerful means of reinforcing societal attitudes about groups of people because the process of stereotyping involves the receiver in creating the message. When the negative attitude that is reinforced … blacks, women or elders, and is recognized by spokespersons for that group as destructive, protest will follow because representatives of the stereotyped group fear that the stereotype will reinforce undesirable role models and will perpetuate discrimination against the group.
Lawrence Reddick (1944) specifies 19 basic stereotypical characteristics attributed to blacks:
- The savage African
- The happy slave
- The devoted servant
- The corrupt politician
- The irresponsible citizen
- The social delinquent
- The petty thief
- The vicious criminal
- The sexual superman
- The unhappy nonwhite
- The superior athlete
- The natural-born cook
- The natural-born musician
- The perfect entertainer
- The superstitious churchgoer
- The chicken and watermelon eater
- The razor and knife toter
- The uninhibited expressionist
- The mental inferior
According to this list, Aunt Jemima meets the criteria for numbers 2, 3, and 12—or, the happy slave, devoted servant, and natural born cook.
Churchill Roberts (1970–71) lists guidelines to test for stereotypes of the black race:
- happy-go-lucky, clowning, grinning, childlike, soulful, hostile, wary
- powerful, tall, lithe, flashy, super-sexually endowed, shuffling, dirty
- rhythmic, athletic, blue-collar
- untrustworthy, aggressive, angry, violent, dangerous, militant
- lazy, unmotivated, strong (women), irresponsible (men)
- hustling, poor, deprived
- ungrateful, swindling, dependent on society
According to Churchill, Aunt Jemima could be classified as primarily number 1.
Richard Maynard (1974, p. vii), editor of The Black Man on Film, contends that most of the stereotypes listed above have been portrayed in one form or another in the mass media. They are thus vividly reinforced in society, generation after generation. This perception was reinforced by Gordon W. Allport in The Nature of Prejudice when he wrote, “Stereotypes are socially supported, continually reviewed and hammered in, by our media of mass communication—by novels, short stories, newspaper items, movies, stage, radio and television” (1960, p. 200).
In his interpretive history of blacks in American films, Donald Bogle (1973) outlines five descriptive stereotypes that have been featured in American motion pictures: the Tom, the coon, the tragic mulatto, the mammy, and the brutal black buck. In explanation of the fourth he offers the following:
The fourth stereotype is the mammy, the female counterpart of the comic coon. She is usually big, fat, cantankerous, and fiercely independent. Much later in time she becomes the Aunt Jemima, less headstrong than the mammy—sweet, jolly, good-tempered.
The black mammy also is a central figure in Eugene Genovese’s Roll, Jordan, Roll (1974). Genovese affords her a more superior position within the plantation household than most historians. He conjectures that the black mammy during slavery was not as much a servant as she is often depicted. “She was loyal to ‘her’ white family, but far from ‘serving’ it, she ran the Big House as the plantation mistress’s executive officer or her ‘de facto’ superior. Her important roles and the white family’s devotion to her made her a powerful woman” (Morton, 1991, p. 102).
Genovese’s attempt to restore the credibility of the mammy runs throughout his book and is replete with themes suggesting that slavery was a paternalistic institution wherein all blacks and whites looked out and cared for each other fervently.
Mammies did not often have to worry about being sold or about having their husbands or children sold. The sacrifices they made for the white man earned them genuine affection in return, which provided a guarantee of protection, safety, and privilege for their own children. The relationship between the Mammies and their white folks exhibited that reciprocity so characteristic of paternalism. (p. 357)
James Anderson (1976) in a book review of Roll, Jordan, Roll, rebuked the assessment of the mammy given by Genovese and retorts that it “is Aunt Jemima sugar-coated in Marlian dialectics.” Despite all of the negatives associated with stereotyping, it is functional within society. Present-day researchers theorize that
the major function of attaching labels to different racial and ethnic groups is to impose order on a chaotic social environment. The simplest and most widely used criteria are those that are immediately apprehended such as skin color, size, facial features, body shapes, nonverbal behavior and language. (Miller, 1982, p. 95
The social world is divided into intelligible units by using categorical labels. Note the stereotypical labels that blacks and whites have assigned to each other (Miller, 1982, p. 95).
Blacks’ View of
|Sense of rhythm
Whites’ View of
The criteria for these divisions is either learned or created and is necessary for classifying people into groups and the maintenance of the status quo in reference to those groups. The one stereotype that has been the most prolific, the ultimate stereotype, has been that of Aunt Jemima. She was and is the stereotype of the black woman, multiplied a millionfold in advertising, cartoons, films, television, and books—for white Americans, an easygoing, non-threatening figure reminiscent of a distant past; for African Americans, a symbol of the denigration and domestication of black identity and of the way blacks have been reduced to functionaries in white fantasies (Pieterse, 1992, p. 155).
Dissension from the Black Race
Dissension from the black race relative to the portrayal of blacks in advertising can be documented as early as the 1920s and became more intense as blacks realized their power as consumers.
During the 1920s dissension relative to the Aunt Jemima trademark was revealed. To ascertain the reactions of blacks a study was conducted using two Aunt Jemima advertisements. Both were similar in mechanical arrangement and utilized the same fundamental selling appeals. The primary difference between them was that one had an illustration of Aunt Jemima prominently displayed, while in the other the pancakes were the center of attention. The test was conducted in Nashville and Richmond with 15 housewives and the heads of 15 families from four occupation classifications: (1) common and semi-skilled labor, (2) skilled labor, (3) business, and (4) professional. Each individual was instructed to pick out which advertisement caught his or her attention more quickly and thoroughly (Edwards, 1932). The results of the study revealed these responses to the ad with Aunt Jemima prominently featured:
||Common and semi-skilled labor—males:
- Don’t like reference in reading matter to Aunt Jemima’s master.
- Because dislike pictures of Aunt Jemima with towel around head.
- Appearance of Aunt Jemima and log cabin sufficient to keep me from buying flour.
- This kind of advertisement always reminds me of slavery.
- Plays upon former slavery of Negroes.
- Picture of cook exaggerates color of Negro.
- Plays upon idea of Negro in slavery too much.
- Don’t like Aunt Jemima with rag on head.
- Not lifelike.
- Would not look at it twice because of picture.
||Common and semi-skilled labor—females:
- Don’t like either the log cabin or picture of Aunt Jemima.
- Aunt Jemima dressed with rag on head and handkerchief on neck.
- Picture of Aunt Jemima actually keeps me from buying the flour.
- Picture reminds me of slavery.
- No. I have never bought Aunt Jemima flour, because it pertains to slavery type of Negro.
- Don’t like slave idea of advertisement.
- Picture of Aunt Jemima not to my taste. We cooks do not look like that.
- Don’t like idea of painting Negroes as they appeared fifty years ago.
- I dislike cabin, Aunt Jemima, and references to slavery.
- Not interested in picture of black mammy.
- Not interested. Don’t like head rag and bandanna. Colored people don’t wear them now. Don’t see why they keep such pictures before the public.
- After seeing disgraceful picture of Aunt Jemima I am not interested.
- I dislike the colored cook’s picture.
- Illustration of Aunt Jemima utterly disgusts me.
- I don’t like slave picture of log cabin and “black mammy.”
- Not necessary to portray colored woman so prominently.
- Slave-time picture arouses my distaste.
- After seeing the picture of slavery days I would not buy the product.
- This gives impression Aunt Jemima was a slave.
- Picture of old-time colored cook objectionable. Illiterate class.
- Because picture of colored cook is objectionable.
- Picture of Aunt Jemima would always be a detriment.
- Colored pictures arouse antagonism.
- I made my opinion about slave advertisements a long time ago and the picture of Aunt Jemima would make me pass it by.
- I don’t like idea of playing upon subject of slavery.
- Picture so “old-time” and dressed for slavery—does not attract me.
- Dislike slave pictures in advertisements referring to white people.
- I dislike pictures which refer to the slavery of Negroes.
- Dislike “black mammy” type of picture of Aunt Jemima.
- Don’t like colored characters in advertisements. Always shown as menials.
- Don’t like Aunt Jemima in head rag.
- I have a prejudice against the picture of Aunt Jemima.
- Upon seeing crude picture of Aunt Jemima I would not look again to see what she is advertising.
- Having seen the slave advertisement I would not be interested in the flour.
- I am prejudiced intensely against any picture of former slave mammy.
- Don’t like way colored woman is dressed.
- Wouldn’t read it. Hate it.
- Don’t like picture of Aunt Jemima. This type of picture is out of date.
- Log cabin and picture of Negro slave woman turns me against the flour.
- I am against the use of old-time Negro mammy.
- After seeing the disgraceful advertisement and reference to slavery I would not be interested in it.
- After seeing the picture of slave “mammy” I would not be interested.
- I dislike the slavery idea of this illustration.
- Picture of Negro “mammy” would keep me from reading advertisement.
- Don’t like illustration. Would not look at it twice.
- Don’t like exploitation of colored people. Whenever I see a picture such as this I am prejudiced against product.
- Don’t care for colored picture at all.
- Don’t care for illustration—old-time cook.
- I would not be interested in it, as it seems to illustrate slavery.
- I am not accustomed to noticing pictures of this sort.
- I do not care for the picture of Negro woman dressed as this one is.
- I positively hate this illustration.
- The log cabin and colored woman cause me to lose interest in the brand of pancake flour.
- I don’t like ignorant type shown in illustration.
- Attempt is made to exploit lowest type colored character.
- Would not look at advertisement when I saw colored picture.
- I am deeply prejudiced against this type of advertisement.
- I hate the picture of Aunt Jemima, the log cabin, and the idea that all colored women are cooks.
- Aunt Jemima’s picture makes me disregard it.
- I have always disliked this advertisement.
- I would not care to read advertisement after seeing illustration.
- The “mammy” picture prejudices me against this.
- Not interested in ignorant colored cook.
- Don’t like colored woman—head rag and bandanna.
- Attracts attention, but arouses antagonism. Don’t like head rag.
- Objectionable colored picture. Woman with head rag and bandanna.
The second advertisement received the larger number of votes, but by a scant 2.5 percent majority. In gaining this majority, however, the votes came only from the housewives in each city. Looking at the total responses received, support for this advertisement was greater from the laboring classes than from either the business or professional classes. Nevertheless, the advertisement where Aunt Jemima dominated the picture did capture the attention of the respondents more quickly than the one where her presence was miniscule. “Just the presence of the Negro woman in the illustration was sufficient in many cases to gain attention quickly and thoroughly; in other cases it was the ‘historical’ figure of Aunt Jemima” (Edwards, 1932, p. 229).
During the civil rights movement, in the era of black nationalism, Eldridge Cleaver (1968) vehemently voiced his opposition to Aunt Jemima, claiming that she, like so many other black women, was a traitor to black American racial pride, identity, values, and legacy. He accused the symbol of consorting with the enemy in the defeat of black America and asserted that “the black woman is an unconsenting ally and she may not even realize it—but the white man sure does” (p. 162). Cleaver’s attack on Aunt Jemima was reinforced by another writer who surmised, “In the 1960s Aunt Jemima was the name the black-power movement used for what it called the female equivalent of Uncle Tom” (Berry, 1991, p. 9A).
Among the artifacts belonging to Alex Haley auctioned on October 1, 2, and 3, 1992, at the Conference Center of the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, was the original typescript of The Autobiography of Malcolm X. The edited manuscripts of The Autobiography of Malcolm X were procured by Detroit-based entertainment attorney, Gregory J. Reed. The manuscript, which commanded the highest price ever paid for an unpublished work of an African-American, contained a chapter titled “The Negro,” which was mysteriously omitted from the published text (Patton, 1993, p. 82). The following is an excerpt of that chapter as it appeared in the The New York Observer, April 19, 1993 and conveys quite clearly the thoughts of Malcolm X on Aunt Jemima:
Instead of so much effort to escape being black, so much trying to be like the white man, he [the black man] might have the sense to wake up from his sleep and put to use for himself the image that the white man won’t let him escape. Take the fact, consider the fact that three centuries of white people have loved black cooking so much that hardly any image is planted deeper in the American mind. Aunt Jemima, beaming and black—used by the white man—has sold billions of pancakes. Her counterpart, Uncle Ben, has sold shiploads of rice—for the white man. Where is the black money pooled into an industry hiring blacks in the total processing of frozen black Southern cooking that could share in the frozen food millions?
Where is this nation’s black-owned chains of black-cooking restaurants? In the fall of 1963, Aunt Jemima moved from boxed pancake flour to a nation-spanning restaurant franchise. Among the features are 37 different kinds of pancakes and fried chicken that, according to the fill-page ad’s copywriter, ‘reduces a southern senator to tears.’
Guess who franchises the chain of Aunt Jemima restaurants?
The activism of the civil rights movement, the resistance to police brutality coupled with the assertiveness of the Black Power movement thus made it almost impossible to portray African-Americans as loyal, servile, but happy Aunt Jemimas and Uncle Moses [Aunt Jemima’s husband]. Americans had only to turn on their television sets: It was obvious that Aunt Jemima and Uncle Mose were out marching, battling police dogs, and burning down Watts.… . The militant Angela Davis traded places with Aunt Jemima and Malcolm X attempted to put Uncle Mose to rest. (Goings, 1990, p. B76)
Cleaver and Malcolm X were not the only blacks to direct their attention toward advertising during this turbulent period in history. Black leaders sought equality for all in many areas, including housing, employment, voting, and advertising. One researcher assessed the dissatisfaction in reference to advertising in this manner:
Among their complaints were the facts that blacks were being used to advertise white men’s products, thus making the white man rich, that the blacks used in ads were not made up well and did not show the Negro in complimentary ways, and that for some Americans, these ads, … constituted their first impression of the black race. Thus, it is true that when we speak of the black American in advertising, we speak of prejudice. (Reno, 1986, p. 2
The Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies in Philadelphia and the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith cosponsored a 1984 exhibition of racial and ethnic images in advertising. Composed of more than 300 items, it displayed magazine advertisements, posters, storyboards for television commercials, and trade cards. In a publication designed to complement the show titled Ethnic Images in Advertising,” Mark Stolarik, executive director of the institute, wrote:
In the early years they [advertisements] were usually crude and condescending images that appealed to largely Anglo-American audiences who found it difficult to reconcile their own vision of beauty, order and behavior with that of non-Anglo-Americans. Later, these images were softened because of complaints from the ethnic groups involved and the growing sophistication of the advertising industry. (Stern, 1984, p. 1)
Another exhibit centered around the portrayal of blacks in advertising is scheduled for 1994. Ruby Jackson, executive director of Black Archives of Mid-America in Kansas City, Missouri, indicated that the museum was planning an exhibit centered around black Americans in 1994. The exhibit titled, “Advertising and the Black American: 100 Years from Shame to Fame” will feature advertisements like Bull Durham, as well as more contemporary advertisements. In discussing the relevancy of the exposition she stated,
We were supposed to be funny. But it has undermined our quest for equality and assimilation. Today, advertisers recognize that we are an important market. Now advertising depicts doctors and engineers and wholesome family members. This transition from grotesque, Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben, to today is a story we want to tell. (Sturgis, 1993, p. 22)
Physical Attributes of Aunt Jemima
The physical attributes of the original versions of Aunt Jemima were totally the opposite of how white America traditionally defined beauty. She was very dark-skinned, had extremely broad features, and was extremely overweight—a far cry from the thin, blond, blue-eyed, Barbie type heralded as the standard of beauty for decades. One writer described the original face of Aunt Jemima used in 1889 as a “frightening caricature of a black mammy” (Morgan, 1986, p. 55).
Karen Jewell examined the processes that evolved to create the mythical image of black females in her 1976 dissertation, “An Analysis of the Visual Development of a Stereotype: The Media’s Portrayal of Mammy and Aunt Jemima as Symbols of Black Womanhood.” Her assertion was that historically the mass media depicted black women as mammy and Aunt Jemima, and that these images perpetuated stereotypes that have ultimately been assigned to all black women, regardless of social class, financial stability, or age. Smith further argues that
these images of black women suggest that they are lacking in beauty, femininity, attractiveness, and other attributes generally associated with womanhood. In addition, the images suggest that black women are satisfied with their lives and want nothing better for themselves or their families. (Smith, 1988, p. 235)
A study by Juanita Sheperd (1980) suggested that black women are un-derrepresented in advertising in the popular press. According to her analysis, this is caused by (1) their physical characteristics, which are contrary to the definition of American beauty, and (2) their relatively limited buying power.
Having a very matronly appearance, Aunt Jemima was consciously portrayed as an asexual, unattractive being. Everyone pictured her as the motherly type—but not the type to marry. This stereotype has been perpetuated not only through advertising, but by television as well. Examples include Louise on “The Jeffersons,” the mother on “What’s Happening?”, and Sapphire and her mother on “Amos ’n’ Andy.”
To conform to the mammy stereotype, the promoters purposely made the Aunt Jemima character obese. Historians and writers have been quite diplomatic in their discussions of Aunt Jemima, and have refrained from describing her as “fat.” Instead, they have used other adjectives to camouflage her size:
“… which featured a plump Aunt Jemima on the box” (Wilson and Gutierrez, 1985, p. 114)
“… big-bottomed mammy” (Sacharow, 1982)
“… her portly appearance remained essentially the same” (Stern, 1984, p. 18)
“… the overweight, good-humored but unsophisticated Anna Robinson” (Marquette, 1967, p. 139)
“She was a massive woman with the face of an angel” (Marquette, 1967, p. 153)
“Never to be forgotten was the day they loaded 350 pounds of Anna Robinson on the Twentieth Century Limited” (Marquette, 1967, p. 154)
It is interesting that visual depictions offer more denigrating images than portrayals in prose. Janet Sims-Wood (1988), in the article “The Black Female: Mammy, Jemima, Sapphire, and Other Images,” opines that these characterizations are often very harsh as presented by the mass media, and “are usually pictured as obese in unattractive or tattered clothing and bossy and stern while at the same time somewhat comical,” yet she suggests that “literature generally depicts the mammy and Aunt Jemima as loving, caring, productive and vital in society” (p. 236).
The mammy image has enthralled Americans for decades. Since the time of slavery she has taken care of “massa” and “missus” and the kids as well. “The Black Mammy filled any gap that occurred in the southern household” (Hine, 1990, p. 1025). It has become one of the most common depictions of black women in American history. “One of the most persistent images of black women in media remains that of the nonthreatening desexualized mammy figure” (Edwards, 1993, p. 216). The portrayal has become so much a part of American culture that it has been representative of American womanhood from times of slavery to the present. And Aunt Jemima has been so skillfully advertised and marketed that she has prolonged “mammy’s” influence on American history, culture, and folklore.
To understand the mystique and to get a grasp of her influence one need only visit the French Quarter in New Orleans. Even today it is easy to buy candy, Aunt Sally’s in particular, with a mammy figure on the package. The list of additional items that can be purchased is quite extensive: dolls, banks, aprons, baskets, butter churns, bathroom plungers, refrigerator magnets— all emblazoned with the face of a heavy-set black woman clad in a red polka-dot bandanna and matching dress with apron, reminiscent of Aunt Jemima. Such items can also be purchased all over America in antique shops, flea markets, craft shops, and general stores.
Black and white consumers caught up in the myth continue to purchase the products, never consciously considering the ramifications of the image and its relevance to the status of contemporary black womanhood. “They were so familiar that few people had any notion that they degraded black Americans. Most people thought the caricatures were simply funny” (Lemmons, 1977, p. 103).
It is difficult to understand how fervendy Southerners tried to hold on to the comforting allure of the mammy concept without mentioning the Black Mammy Memorial Movement. In 1911 The Banner, a white newspaper in Athens, Georgia, reported a general Southern movement, with specific reference to Texas, to establish monuments and memorials to the “old Black Mammies of the South.” According to The Banner, this movement had inspired a group of leading white citizens of Athens to form the Black Mammy Memorial Association in 1910. The association then spearheaded a project to charter and solicit funds in support of the Black Mammy Memorial Institute. The purpose of the institute was to train young blacks in domestic skills and “moral attitudes that were generally associated with ‘old black mammy’ in the south” (Patton, 1980, p. 150).
Samuel F. Harris, a founder of the black industrial evening school, was chosen as principal of the institute. He and four other blacks knowledgeable in industrial education comprised the primary members of the institute’s board of colored directors, which served under the white board of trustees. On September 19, 1910, nine outstanding white citizens of Athens filed a petition for a charter with the clerk of the Superior Court of Clark County to establish the institute. In an attempt to raise funds, the Black Mammy Memorial Association published a 14-page pamphlet that gave details pertinent to the institute’s history, purpose, and course curriculum. It stated that the institute was “a living monument where the sons and daughters of these distinctively Southern characters may be trained in the arts and industries that made the ‘old Black Mammy’ valuable and worthy of the tender memory of the South” (Patton, 1980, p. 153). Appealing to the nostalgic desires of Southerners, the writers asked the prospective donors:
Did you not have an “Old Black Mammy” who loved and cared for you in the days of your youth whose memory and spirit you want perpetuated? We would like to make this monument representative and worthy of the ideals and traditions of the “Great South.” May we not ask your subscription to this great monument? The appeal is to Southerners. (Patton, 1980, p. 153)
The institute was chartered for twenty years, which would have necessitated a renewal in 1930. However, the racial climate during the 1930s and the view of most blacks toward slavery and any images associated with it probably undermined any attempt to renew the charter.
Enamored with the mystical image of mammy, in 1923 the Daughters of the Confederacy suggested that Congress set aside in the Capitol a site upon which they could erect a bronze monument in recognition of the “Black Mammy” (“Black Mammy,” 1923, p. 4). Members of the black community became irate at the thought of honoring a concept that was denigrating to black womanhood and indicative of black servitude. Blacks suggested that a “better memorial would be to extend the full rights of American citizenship to the descendants of these Mammies” (Washington Tribune, 1923). The proposals made by the blacks included discontinuation of lynching, inequality in educational facilities, all discriminatory practices, and humiliation of blacks in public conveyances, and granting the right to vote. The pressure brought by various black leaders and groups was so fierce that the monument proposal was eventually killed in the House of Representatives (Parkhurst, 1938, pp. 349–350).
The petition was defeated “but in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s Hollywood film producers and New York advertising agencies built their own monuments to mammy. With their films, their pancake boxes, and their syrup bottles, they imprinted the image of mammy on the American pysche more indelibly than ever before” (White, 1985, p. 165).
Barbara Christian, author of Black Women Novelists: The Development of a Tradition, 1892–1976 (1980), offers an even more vivid description of the black mammy and lists certain characteristics that can serve as a litmus test when trying to determine whether a caricature is a mammy image or not— black, fat with huge breasts, head covered with a kerchief to hide her nappy hair, strong, kind, loyal, sexless, religious, and superstitious.
In response to the objections raised by the black community, Aunt Jemima accomplished what millions of Americans have been trying to do unsuccessfully for years—she lost weight and reversed the aging process. “Unquestionably, there have been changes in the traditional images of mammy, Aunt Jemima.… The major changes that were made in the mammy image affected her physical characteristics more than her emotional makeup” (Jewell, 1993, p. 183).
The metamorphosis of Aunt Jemima did not go unnoticed. The dramatic change was recorded by several writers. The following analyses note the disparities in the role currently being played by Aunt Jemima:
She lost about 150 pounds, dropped 40 years, got herself a new headdress and moved from the plantation to New Orleans. It took more than 80 years, but the symbol on the label of the best selling pancake mix made the transformation from freed slave cook to Creole cooking teacher. (Scripps Howard, 1987, p. 1E)
The portrait on the current box is a younger, slimmer image of a black housewife. While the Quaker Oats Company, which has owned Aunt Jemima Mills since 1926, has transformed an outmoded representation of a black “mammy” to a younger, more upbeat stereotype, she is still recognizably Aunt Jemima. (Stern, 1984, p. 18)
Over the years Aunt Jemima has lost some weight, but the stereotyped face of the black servant continues to be featured on the box. (Wilson and Gutierrez, 1985, p. 114)
Aunt Jemima was redesigned from the familiar “mammy” character, making her slimmer and more youthful. (Hall, 1984, p. 30)
To make her image more appealing to blacks, she lost over 100 pounds, became 40 years younger, got a new headdress and moved from the Higbee Plantation to New Orleans. In essence, she was transformed from a caricature of a black mammy to a savvy creole cooking instructor. (Kern-Foxworth, 1988, p. 20)
Aunt Jemima no longer looks like Scarlett O’Hara’s trusted Mammy. Gone is the head rag, apron and billowing housedress. Jemima is now a slimmed down house professional with a neatly coiffed hairstyle and attire that comes pretty close to looking like business dress. It may not be a revolution, but it’s a start. (Edwards, 1993, p. 222)
James Anderson, in a 1976 review of Eugene Genovese’s Roll, Jordan, Roll (1974), references the author’s tendency to romanticize the role of the mammy during slavery. In his essay he posits this synopsis of the reformation of Aunt Jemima:
Many Americans, especially Afro-Americans, remember when Aunt Jemima appeared on pancake boxes in rather crude form. Then came the black power movement, espousing nationalistic ideology and black pride, and old Aunt Jemima was transfigured by bright and shining colors.… Underneath the bright colors Aunt Jemima stood for the same pillar of the black community, a durable black woman who took her cooking for the good white people as a matter of personal honor and pride, who sometimes swore and kicked, but never presented any serious challenge to the social system that oppressed her because of her dim political awareness. The changing of her form was meant to make her at once a spirit of accommodation in a symbol of black pride. Though her complexion had been presumably improved, her heart remained the same. The transformation, however, was enough to call for new resolutions of the tensions between dignity and oppression. While many could understand the embodiment of contradictions in a single process, questions were raised as to the predominant forces within Aunt Jemima, (p. 99)
The ghost of Aunt Jemima and mammy still haunt black women despite their success. In 1986 Oprah Winfrey became offended when “Saturday Night Live” producer Lorne Michaels wanted her to open the show with a sketch in which she played Aunt Jemima about to be laid off from Quaker Oats (Edwards, 1993, p. 215). At that time People magazine had reported that Winfrey had earned in excess of $11 million in that year. Although Winfrey refused to play the part and opted to open the show with a sketch that showed her getting into an argument with Michaels over the skit, it reinforced the notion that regardless of how much fame, how much money and prestige a black woman gets, in the end she is still but yet another Aunt Jemima. “The attempt by the white male producer of ‘Saturday Night Live’ to reduce the highest paid, most successful daytime talk show host to the role of mammy by casting her as Aunt Jemima not only reeked of racist, sexist stereotyping, but underscored a deeper, more primal insecurity” (Edwards, 1993, p. 217).
The author of the story reporting the incident regarding Oprah Winfrey further asserts that, “Even Oprah Winfrey’s media success may be in large measure a reflection of America’s love for the quintessential maid or mammy figure—the big, warm-hearted black woman is a natural in a medium as intimate as the television talk show format” (Edwards, 1993, p. 216).
Aunt Jemima’s Headdress
The traditional headwear worn by Aunt Jemima may have been offensive to blacks because it reminded them of a demeaning period in their ancestry. The red bandanna worn by the original Aunt Jemima was symbolic of slavery. The formal name for the scarf is a chignon, a French word that actually refers to a different fashion, in which the hair is rolled to the back of the head.
To understand the resentment held by blacks for the headpiece, it is important to trace the origin of the practice of women wearing kerchiefs wrapped around the head. The practice began during slavery and was one of the devices used to put blacks in their place:
The clothes worn by the plantation slaves were simple.… Women wore full gathered skirts and tight bodice, sometimes adding spotless white neckerchiefs, aprons and tignons [chignons]. This headgear is said to have been brought to Louisiana from Martinique and San Domingo and evidence of this is borne out by the old family portraits of beautiful women with Madras kerchiefs bound about their heads. White women discontinued wearing the tignon in 1786, when a legal manifesto was issued, designating this headdress as the only one that might be worn by free women of color. These women, many of them beautiful and perfectly white in appearance, had caused so much disturbance in the colony by attracting the attention of white men that the law was issued, barring them from wearing hats or plumes or jewels, and designed to render them less attractive. It is said, however, that the tignons increased their beauty and made them more appealing than ever. (Saxon et al., 1987, p. 238)
Because the kerchief is such an important part of the Aunt Jemima persona, she has in some cases been dubbed “handkerchief head” (Warren, 1988, p. 56).
The Language of Aunt Jemima
During Reconstruction there was a dramatic increase in the publication of newspapers and magazines and thus an increase in advertising. Consequently, as blacks began to attain mobility and purchasing power, thousands of advertisements were designed to appeal to black and white Americans— either drawings of blacks using and selling products or products designed for blacks only. Unfortunately, “the language of the ads was often ‘bastardized’ black English” (Brasch, 1981, p. 114).
Indeed the proliferation of the mass media spun a new era in the portrayal of blacks, and attention was focused not only on how they looked and what they said but also on how they said it. During this time, the nonstandard English patterns of blacks were accepted and expected.
6 Thus a stereotypical representation was perpetuated in language and verse, and “most literary representations of blacks were distortions of reality, butchered by incompetent writers” (Brasch, 1981 p. xiii).
With an increase in population growth, advertising expanded into more specialized forms. Flyers and advertising postcards with statements written in black English became widespread. These forms of advertising were less expensive than others, and the results were very effective. Along with sheet music covers of earlier black music and printed sermons in black dialect, these flyers have been lost in the annals of history. “Of the millions printed, only a few—now yellowed and torn, and usually secreted away in museums and attics—remain to help later generations understand the language and culture of an earlier different America” (Brasch, 1981, p. 115).
Was language an important element in analyzing the psychological effects of advertising during the period before and after Reconstruction? More specifically, did the bastardized language used by Aunt Jemima have any effect on the black psyche during that period? Roger D. Abrahams, a leading folklorist and black English scholar, observes:
In the controversy over the “legitimacy” of the speech of Afro-Americans in the United States we tend to forget that a person’s image of himself is intimately bound up with the ways in which he chooses to talk. To criticize a way of speaking, or to denigrate it any way, is to attack the image a person has of himself. (Abrahams, 1977, p. 13)
During the 1960s America was rampant with civil unrest and despair. Blacks were being led in nonviolent protest by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It was the time of rioting in Newark, Detroit, and Chicago. The overwhelming theme of the time was black pride, and blacks everywhere were chanting, “Say it out loud, I’m black and I’m proud” and “Black is beautiful.” Blacks wore dashikis and afro hairstyles as symbols of their self-esteem. It was also during this time that blacks noted the symbolic power of language in their lives and sought the elimination of derogatory language from their history. Symbols have always been an integral part of black culture and have provided the fabric necessary to bridge the gap between self-defeat and self-esteem. Lance Morrow, a columnist for Time, wrote:
In the service of black morale, symbols are immensely important. … If they can only imagine themselves working as menials, then they will probably subside into that fate following that peasant logic by which son follows father into a genetic destiny.… Symbols can bring change. They have real power in the world. (Morrow, 1984, p. 84)
Even the name Aunt Jemima is highly symbolic and has negative connotations. The term “aunt” was used to refer to an elderly black woman during the early 1800s (Partridge, 1984). It was supposed to connote the closeness, affection, and trust in which black servants were held despite the lowly status to which they were relegated (Stern, 1984, p. 18). The practice of calling blacks “aunt” became popular because slaves were never called “Mr.” or “Mrs.”; “aunt” and “uncle” were used to address them. The use of such designations were continued “in all forms of popular culture well into the twentieth century” (Atwan et al., 1979, p. 92).
Jemima was a name that had different meanings during various times in history. Originally Jemima was a feminine name with historical beginnings in the Arabic and Hebrew languages. Only when it became Americanized was the trait of obesity added. The word also defined a chamber pot during the nineteenth and early part of the twentieth century, a servant girl during the nineteenth century, and a dressmaker’s dummy from 1880 to 1930 (Chapman, 1986, p. 615).
The name Jemima has not always had a negative connotation. In Black Women for Beginners (1993), Saundra Sharp offers a glossary of terms germane to black women in which she notes the following:
AUNT JEMIMA: One of the most recognized symbols of the happy “mammy” used to market pancakes and other domestic products to whites since the 1880s. The name Jemimah once had esteem as the eldest of Job’s (the Bible) daughters and as a city in ancient Arabia named after its queen. (p. 38)
From Aunt Jemima’s inception, her language was clearly far from standard English. The slogan coined by the R. T. Davis Milling Company around the turn of the century for use in the advertising campaign was “I’se in town, Honey.” In time “her audience took up the phrase and it became the catchline of the Fair [the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893]” (Marquette, 1967, p. 146).
Advertising was one of the mechanisms used to enslave blacks. Although many have scorned the derogatory pictorials used in earlier advertising featuring blacks, researchers have seldom examined the words and their presentation by the graphic artists and copywriters.
Dawn Reno, an author and collector of black memorabilia, succinctly explained the effects of using distorted language in earlier advertisements when she wrote, “When the ads became more explicit and their ‘characters’ talked, it was always in a bastardized version of the English language. Such is the way prejudice is taught and maintained as a standard way of life” (1986).
In a book that scrutinizes the psychology of the “Sambo” image assigned to black males, Joseph Boskin alludes to the crude language used by Rastus (Cream of Wheat) and Aunt Jemima when advertising their products. He notes that they were “always clean, ready to serve with a crisp smile, … and distinctively southern in their spoken words” (1986, p. 139). Boskin’s reference to a “southern” dialect suggests that the language was improper and poor.
Examples of the irregular dialect and broken speech patterns are illustrated in the advertising scenario below, from a 1918 issue of the Ladies Home Journal.
“Seems like I’se needed ’roun’ heah.”
“We don’t get pancakes often enough,” he shouts while holding a sign that reads, “We want Aunt Jemima pancakes.”
“And we want those delicious Aunt Jemimas,” shouts the father while holding a sign that reads, “Vote for Aunt Jemima.”
“Dey say I’se helped mo’ mothers win de lovin’ votes dan any other cook in de world. Dat’s cuz nothin’ is happier eatin’ dan my scrumptious tender pancakes.”
Honey, it’s easy to be de sweetheart o’ yo’ family. Yo’ know how de men folks an’ de young folks all loves my tasty pancakes. An’ yo’ can make dem fo’ dem jiffy-quick, an’ jus’ right everytime, wid my magic ready-mix,“ she says as she smiles toward the mother and points to a box of Aunt Jemima pancakes.
The family sits around the table while Aunt Jemima serves her pancakes and sings “Pancakes Days Is Happy Days.”
Ironically, Aunt Jemima’s dialect, although ridiculed by whites, may have influenced white Southern speech. The linguist J. L. Dillard asserts that the Southern dialect has a strong African-American influence and that the black Southern mammy was the primary mode of transmission to whites. “During his travels in the United States in 1842 Charles Dickens observed that the women he met in the South ‘speak more or less like Negroes, from having been constantly in their childhood with a black nurse“ (Patton, 1993, p. 82). Today Aunt Jemima’s speech patterns resemble those of a sophisticated English teacher.
The Stereotypical Situation: The Plantation
Most of the advertising copy created for Aunt Jemima revolved around a fictitious plantation, a setting that embodied all of the stereotypes associated with slavery. Such associations did not conjure up pleasant reminiscences for blacks. It is important to understand the rudimentary underpinnings of the role plantations have had in the development of black stereotypes. The correlation is explained by Walter Stephan and David Rosenfkld in “Racial and Ethnic Stereotypes”:
Many aspects of the stereotypes of both groups [blacks and whites] can be traced to the role relationships involved in the plantation system and its successors in the South. The plantation evolved on the frontiers of America as a way of organizing agriculture for the production of a commercial staple resident labor force. Where land was plentiful but labor was scarce, the planters turned to indentured servants and later to slaves.… The concept of race and the stereotypes associated with it enabled the dominant group to view members of the subordinate group as inferior beings, and to treat them accordingly. Whites attempted to divest blacks of their traditions and language under the plantation system. This means that the stereotypes of blacks and whites were determined by the nature of the contact between the groups to a greater degree than was the case for ethnic groups in America that retained more of their traditions. The economic roles that blacks performed and the conditions under which they were forced to live became prime determinants of how they were viewed by the dominant group. It was inherent in a system of forced labor that slaves would be regarded as lazy, because there were few positive incentives for work. (1982, p. 98)
Because their maintenance was provided for in the most minimal manner, slaves were seen as unkempt and dirty. The education of slaves was actually illegal in nearly every state in the South. This fact, combined with the limited exposure blacks had to the wider white society, led to their being regarded as ignorant.
The almost total dependence of the subordinate group, together with the paternalistic attitude of the dominant group, led blacks to be viewed as if they were in a state of perpetual childhood.… The result was that blacks were characterized as pleasure loving and happy-go-lucky. The reluctance of blacks to display anger and resentment toward members of the dominant group, for fear of being punished, reinforced the view that they were happy with their situation.
Almost all of the references made by writers to the disposition of Aunt Jemima refer to her in this manner, suggesting that she was smiling and happy at all times—a state which blacks closely associate with slavery, an acquired disposition that was a must for survival during the era of plantations and masters. Nagueyalti Warren (1988), a noted author on black American culture, while acknowledging the strong similarities between Aunt Jemima and mammy, suggests, “Whereas the mammy is often irascible, Aunt Jemima is characterized as sweet, jolly, and even-tempered. Jemima is polite, never headstrong like mammy” (p. 56).
One researcher describes this “always laughing” disposition as an illusionary pre-encounter and suggests that the “illusionary pre-encounter ethnic expressions might also be thought of as operative compromise between pre-encounter and encounter ethnicity.” He further asserts that “the motto of the expressive styles of illusionary pre-encounter seeks to be, ‘You gotta do with what you got, and if you living in a white man’s world, why, then you do everything you hafta to get the most you can … and you keep on laughing” (Guffy, 1971).
No one has captured the seemingly docile, yet cunning disposition of blacks during slavery better than Maya Angelou in the poem “Song for Old Ones” (1981). In the poem Angelou colorfully describes how the docile and submissive African forefathers in their “Uncle Tom” characters and “Aunt Jemima” smiles used their wit to live through over a quarter of a century of brutality (p. 53).
Despite the objections of the black community to the Aunt Jemima trademark, it has survived for more than 100 years. Aunt Jemima is reminiscent of a period in history that blacks and whites alike would rather forget, but the product still has stability. “Even in these post-plantation days, Aunt Jemima still appears on the package and suggests southern hospitality, making the southern black woman one of the best cooks in the land” (Sacharow, 1982, p. 63). The author further remarks that the product has been shown to be used by more blacks than whites. The author does not expand on this assertion, and there is no actual product mentioned. Another study did note that while 23 percent of white families purchased Aunt Jemima corn meal, only 3 percent of black families did so (Assael, 1987).
William Rasberry, a nationally known syndicated columnist, explained the stability of Aunt Jemima in an article originally written to note the objection of blacks to the opening of a Sambo restaurant. After the article ran there was an outcry from white observers claiming that blacks were too sensitive and looking for negatives where none existed. In another article Rasberry defended the longevity of Aunt Jemima in this manner:
On this basis, they would soon be taking offense at Aunt Jemima’s Pancake Mix. If the pancake mix or Uncle Ben’s Rice were to be launched today they would be offensive. There are a couple of reasons why those two brand names, both featuring black caricatures, are not offensive to blacks now. First, they have been around a long time, giving them the innocuousness that comes with familiarity. Second, they were never particularly obnoxious to begin with. Hardly any black youngster today will know that ‘uncle’ and ‘aunt’ were devices used by Old South whites to give a modicum of respect to older blacks without going to the unthinkable extreme of calling them ‘Mr.’ or ‘Mrs.’ Even so, the companies that package Uncle Ben and Aunt Jemima have been sensitive to changing times. Look at the face on the pancake box and, if you’re over thirty, try to remember what Aunt Jemima used to look like. She always did wear a big smile, but in the earlier days she was a big coarse-featured woman in, say, the Hattic McDaniels mode—a black nanny. Today she is younger, slimmer, prettier, and her bandanna is closer to the headwraps you’re likely to see at cocktail parties. (Hay, 1981, pp. 163–64)
The fortitude and ingenuity of the trademark owners have forged a permanent image of the symbol into the minds of most Americans. The ability of the trademark to sustain has not been an easy task, as evidenced by the closing of Sambo restaurants and the temporary discontinuation of Uncle Ben as Uncle Ben’s trademark. Ben was not as fortunate as Jemima and was removed from the box amid objections from the black consumer market during the civil rights movement. It was later reinstated, but the trademark did not have the same prominence on the box as in earlier times.
Although Aunt Jemima has become a venerable character for print advertising, she has not achieved great success with television commercials. The Quaker Oats Company has been cautious. Fear of backlash from the black community has been an effective deterrent to the adoption of promotional strategies that would have worked in the past but would probably meet with staunch opposition today. The subservient, humble, “step-and-fetch-it,” mammy stereotypes still haunt the memory of many blacks. For this reason, “television producers are very careful now about domestic employees—not to mention blacks—and progress is measured by the distance from the old offensive image” (Pinckney, 1983, p. 347). The unsuccessful transition of Aunt Jemima into the electronic age was characterized by one author when he wrote, “Video was never the home for Elsie the Cow, Aunt Jemima, or the Smith Brothers” (Hall, 1984, p. 14).
The “Old Auntie” offered white America warmth, devotion and love. She was an American counterpart to the European peasant, the Earth-mother. The romanticized plantation where Aunt Jemima served as a sanctuary where she could develop the family ties that were immune from the force of progress. In this mythic world she was “more than a mudder.” To modern black leaders, she evidently does not represent slavery, degradation or servitude. Her long history and inclusion into American folklore has seemingly superseded these characteristics. (Sacharow, 1982, p. 65)
But in some invincible icon awoke subleties of pain more often than the warmth described time after time in the literature of days gone by.
As a child in the 1950s I could not look inside the image and see the African bones under those high cheeks. It was simply a bandana on her head not the American adaptation of the West African gele headwrap. The gleam of her teeth was only selfless accommodation—not the contrast of white against African skin, not survival. We were all children then, not so long ago, and didn’t see what was behind the caricature. We felt only pain at what had been done to us in the name of white America. (Gomez, 1986, pp. 14–15)
THE 1989 METAMORPHOSIS OF AUNT JEMIMA
There are blacks today who are offended by the trademark and therefore refuse to purchase the product. As a symbol, Aunt Jemima has alienated some factions of black consumers because they fear that if they purchase the product, they are in essence perpetuating the stereotype and thus reinforcing all of the negative ramifications that accompany such portrayals. Nancy Hass (1989), in reporting the change that Aunt Jemima underwent in 1989, observed that “social groups call for the abolition of such logos as Aunt Jemima and the Cream of Wheat chef because they carry subservient connotations despite any changes” (p. 1E).
To make the symbol more acceptable to the black market, Quaker Oats introduced a new Aunt Jemima in April 1989, 100 years after the concept was begun, “because they became aware of people’s lack of acceptance,” notes Annette Carson, the founder of the National Black Memorabilia Collectors’ Association (NBMCA) and publisher of Black Ethnic Collectibles magazine. “In my opinion, they fall into the same category of the mammy and the sambo” (Brown, 1990). The image had been altered 21 years earlier, but this time the change was quite dynamic. All that remained of the stereotypical Jemima was her effervescent, alluring smile. The headband was traded in for soft, gray-streaked hair, and to give her a more contemporary look she now wears pearl earrings and a dainty lace collar. The Aunt Jemima transformation was capsuled in this way by one writer: “When Aunt Jemima wore that head rag as she flipped those pancakes, we didn’t like it much. (But that didn’t stop us from buying the product.) Well, about two years ago Quaker Oats gave Auntie a makeover. They advised Girlfriend against the head rag, gave her a soft do, and did her colors” (DeLeon, 1992, p. 25). In fact, she looks more like a black Betty Crocker than the Aunt Jemima who has graced our breakfast tables for over a century. By the end of the summer of 1989 the new image adorned all forty Aunt Jemima products.
In 1991 the Quaker Oats Company introduced the newest product to the line—pancakes in a bottle. In the fast-paced world where convenience is of the utmost importance to homemakers, Quaker Oats, in an attempt to prepare for the 21st-century consumer, introduced Aunt Jemima Pancake Express. The product consists of small plastic bottles partially filled with mix. Cooks need only add water, shake, then pour the batter onto the griddle.
To gear up for the 1990s the company conducted market research studies in 12 American cities. Naomi Henderson, principal of RIVA Marketing and Research, conducted a target focus-group study. She said that most of the women interviewed “did not like the bandanna. They viewed it as a symbol of slavery” (Brown, 1990, p. 5). Based on the results of those studies the company revamped the image “in a more contemporary light, while preserving the important attributes of warmth, quality, good taste, heritage and reliability,” said Barbara R. Allen, vice president of marketing for the Quaker Oats Company’s convenience foods division (“Aunt Jemima Trademark,” 1989, p. 2).
Aunt Jemima dominates the pancake batter mix with a greater than 40 percent market share. The Aunt Jemima product line represents $300 million of Quaker Oats’ $5.3 billion in annual sales, and this marketing strategy is indicative of the promotional savvy employed in the present and past. It has been used to keep Aunt Jemima the most popular pancake mix in America.
One year to the date of the release of the latest cosmetic change for Aunt Jemima, a study was conducted by the author and Susanna Hornig (1992) to see what impact the change had had on consumers’ perception of Aunt Jemima. The researchers were interested in doing this study because the 1989 makeover was the most radical Aunt Jemima had ever undergone. It would be the first Aunt Jemima logo to distance itself totally from domestic work and the first not to have any kind of headwear.
The purpose of the study was to provide information on how the Aunt Jemima and Betty Crocker trademarks have been infused into American popular culture. The authors also were interested in finding out what characteristics made the two cooks so well liked by the general public, and in determining which of the two trademarks is more popular or recognizable. To conduct the analysis students at a large Southern university were surveyed in three different journalism classes to determine their impressions of both trademarks. Along with the 20-item questionnaire students were given three photocopies of each trademark depicting various makeovers at strategic times in the characters’ existence. The pictures of Aunt Jemima showed her appearance for the years 1936, 1968, and 1989; the years selected for Betty Crocker were 1936, 1965, and 1986. Students were asked to rank each character on her attractiveness, intelligence, and warmth. In addition, the respondents were asked to estimate the trademarks’ income level and profession. The researchers also wanted to determine if the students knew what products the trademarks represented.
The early Aunt Jemima was correctly identified by all respondents; 80 percent identified the second image used. Both images were generally classified as “food company representatives.” The more contemporary Aunt Jemima was correctly identified by only 42 percent of the respondents and classified as a food company representative by only 63 percent. The new Aunt Jemima is thus less recognizable than the older ones, but still substantially more recognizable than any of the Betty Crocker images. The new. Aunt Jemima also has a sharply different socioeconomic image, evidenced by the fact that she was classified as professional or managerial by 68 percent of the respondents. Earlier images were classified as household worker by 78 percent (earliest photo) and 64 percent (second photo) of the respondents. She has almost caught up to Betty Crocker on income level, with the mean assigned by respondents falling in the $40,000 to $45,000 range. On the semantic differential scales the new Aunt Jemima is seen as nearly as attractive as, and not much different in intelligence from, the newest Betty Crocker. She remains very motherly—unlike Betty, whose newest image is even less motherly than the old.
ARTISTIC REACTIONS TO THE CONCEPT OF AUNT JEMIMA
Despite the changes made in 1968 and 1989 the image of the bandanna-wearing, unsophisticated, plantation mammy will linger in the minds of some black consumers because the original trademark perpetuated a stereotype that enslaved not only the race being portrayed but those who sought to enslave. Reaction to the symbol has surfaced in different forms from the black community.
During the 1960s blacks used various forms of artistic expression to illustrate their discontent with racial and cultural alienation reinforced by racism and segregation. One author summarized the plight of these artists by writing:
In an attempt to dislodge the cultural hegemony of mainstream American society over the lives of Afro-American, the art of black nationalism affirms its militancy. The major expressive intent of protest artists is political activism. Like the work of their musical counterparts, their contributions are primarily ‘message art,’ or symbolic images and statements about the living conditions of blacks and their political goal of redress. For them art becomes political, and politics becomes artistic. They use their art to inspire black unity and dignity; to articulate the needs of their people’s experience and potential. (Fine, 1973, p. 195)
Betye Saar’s painting The Liberation of Aunt Jemima cries out for political and psychological freedom for all black people. It silently speaks against the subjugation of black womanhood and black women’s self-esteem. Using a backdrop of smiling Aunt Jemima faces, she subliminally suggests the servitude that has enslaved Aunt Jemima and those whom she represented. The foreground of the painting is empowered by a massive Aunt Jemima figure, grotesque and scary, clothed in the traditional Aunt Jemima costume, bandanna included.
In one hand she holds a broom, which symbolizes the subservient position to which American black women were relegated for such a long time. In the other she brandishes a rifle, symbolizing militant protest. Immediately in front of the gun-toting Jemima is a framed picture of her as a loving, caring nanny, holding a crying white child. The smile, although quite broad, is also quite deceiving. It appears that she is not smiling because she is happy, and not to appease her white master, but at the prospect of one day gaining her freedom. By superimposing several different images of Aunt Jemima in a single composition Saar is seemingly able to reflect Aunt Jemima’s past, present, and future. In particular, she uses different media to convey the plurality of the black existence in America. As one author wrote, “The message of the painting is without a doubt, that ‘a change gon’ come” (Lewis, 1978). The writer further asserts that “Saar’s seemingly contradictory image suggests that for Afro-Americans, laughter and anger, docility and hostility are merely different means for achieving the same outcome” (p. 173).
Betye Saar describes this work on Aunt Jemima as one of the pieces in a collection titled, “Exploding the Myth” in which she used derogatory images such as Aunt Jemima and Uncle Tom and related them to the black liberation movement in America. The nucleus of “The Liberation of Aunt Jemima Series” was represented by a black woman—an Aunt Jemima type— holding a gun instead of a rolling pin (Andrews, 1975). For those curious about why Saar frames all her work in boxes or windows she offers the following explanation:
The window is a way of traveling from one conscious level to another, like the physical looking to the mental or the spiritual. The boxes represent a ‘contained’ kind of secret that one can open and look into, then close if he wishes to leave that particular idea. (Andrews, 1975, p. 30)
A pen-and-ink drawing by Murray N. DePillars depicts an androgynous-looking Aunt Jemima exploding from a pancake-box bed with unparalleled defiance while holding high a large spatula. In the left-hand corner of the box the traditional mammy trademark has been strategically replaced with an ultra-slim black female sporting a short afro haircut. Another DePillars drawing depicted Aunt Jemima against a background of the American flag (the stars are Chicago police badges). She is bursting from her pancake box, ready to do some damage with her raised flyswatter, under the gaze of an angry contemporary African-American female. The boxes arranged like a series of books at the right are each topped by a clenched fist, and texts about African-American history are found under the “Ingredients” of “The Original Aunt Jemima Pancake and Waffle Mix” (Lippard, 1990, p. 235). The “Ingredients” on the side of the first box explain the protest by black athletes seated in Section 22 at the 1968 Summer Olympics. The other boxes list 21 places where racial conflict had occurred. The symbolic 22nd location is yet to be named—DePillars leaves it as a question mark.
The symbol of the clenched fist first gained prominence during the 1968 Summer Olympics when sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos wore black leather gloves raised in defiance during the playing of the American national anthem. The clenched fist signifies racial unity and “black power.” The picture of the two holding their fists high in the air as they stood on the Olympic victory platform to receive their medals became one of the most visible signs of the 1968 Olympics (Granda, 1992, p. 57).
DePillars, who during the 1960s was a member of AFRI-COBRA (African Commune of Bad and Relevant Artists), had 4000 copies of the drawing made (originally done in conte crayon), and sold them to black businesses in inner city neighborhoods in Chicago to refute the idea that poor blacks would not buy art (Granda, 1992, p. 71).
The obvious point of the drawings is Aunt Jemima’s reluctance to remain caged in the stereotypical format she occupied during her lengthy existence. The artist was trying desperately to depict Aunt Jemima in a representation totally opposite to “the dependable, benign, usually fat, grinning great black mammy in white kitchens and nurseries.” Instead, DePillars chose a concept more reflective “of a very angry woman who may still be in the white lady’s kitchen, but on very different terms—shorter, more reasonable working hours, familiarity is allowed, and social security” (Klotman, 1977, p. 172).
Indifference to the Aunt Jemima trademark also was the focus of a poster designed by another black artist, John Onye Lockard. The work shows a very coarse-looking Aunt Jemima with the liberation colors of red, black, and green wrapped around her head. With a stern look on her face, the character forcefully puts her fist through the box, and the caption at the bottom reads, “No More.” The implication is that she is saying no more to being portrayed as the obese, subservient, domestic standard by which all black womanhood was measured.
Note the resentment for the trademark in the poems “Aunt Jemima” and “In Search of Aunt Jemima,” written by blacks in 1983 and 1978 respectively.
Does anybody know what ever happened to
Aunt Jemima on the pancake box?
Rumor has it that she just up and disappeared.
Well, I know the real story
You see I ran into Aunt Jemima one day.
She told me she got tired of wearing that rag wrapped around her head.
And she got tired of making pancakes and waffles for other people to
eat while she couldn’t sit down at the table.
She told me that Lincoln emancipated the slaves
But she freed her own damn self.
The last time I saw Aunt Jemima
She was driving a Mercedes-Benz
with a bumper sticker on back that said
“Free at last, free at last,
Thank God all mighty
I am free at last.”
In Search of Aunt Jemima
(Alias Big Mama)
Everbody’s looking for Big Mama,
spatula in hand and ample
table set for all of master’s children
serving generous portions
of forgiving love with open
Everybody needs to nestle in
her warm, full bosom, hear again
that throaty voice belt out
deep-valleyed lullabies of blackness
(shouting hosannas or moaning
blues for good man gone).
Where did Aunt Jemima go? And when
will she return to reassure us
that her delicious laughter
was innocent and wholesome to partake of
and no more subtle
and no more dangerous
than her pancakes?
Naomi Long Madgett
AUNT JEMIMA AND THE NATIONAL COUNCIL OF NEGRO WOMEN
The indifference and resentment to the Aunt Jemima logo was confronted head on when Quaker Oats entered into a venture that the company hoped would make the trademark a more positive symbol within the African-American community. “For decades the image of Aunt Jemima, who originally wore a head rag while she flipped her pancakes, was associated with denigration of black women” (Brace, 1991, p. 3). That venture was a community partnership program with the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) titled “A Tribute to Black Women Community Leaders.” Founded by human rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune in 1935, NCNW has an outreach to more than four million women and is recognized as the principal advocacy group for African-American women and their families.
The program included a contest in seven cities with NCNW community-based sections that encouraged individuals to nominate the black, female leader who best exemplified community service, church activism, family ideals, and career development. A breakfast fund-raiser that benefitted the local NCNW section was the platform for announcing winners in each city. Cash awards and gift baskets were provided.
Also included in the program was a recognition of the leadership skills and talents of local, female college students. Each of the participating sections selected a student who had exhibited unique leadership qualities and had served her community selflessly.
The year-long program was launched in Washington, D.C., with a breakfast at which five of Washington’s most prominent female leaders were honored on October 31, 1991. “We are proud to join NCNW in announcing the launch of this exciting seven-city program that will pay tribute to local leaders who serve as role models in their respective communities,” said Barbara Allen, president of the Frozen Division at the Quaker Oats Company (p. 2).
The women honored included Monica Dancy, Pre-Trial Services Officer, D. C. Superior Court; Brita Kemp, NCNW Volunteer, Operation Sisters United; Carol Lowe, Executive Director, D. C. Commission for Women; Ella McCall, Social Worker, Voices From the Street; Lorraine Miller, Floor Assistant, U. S. House of Representatives. “The nominees and winners in each city will symbolize community involvement and strong family values— those traditional qualities that Aunt Jemima brands continue to represent and support,” commented Allen (p. 2).
“There are many women across the country whose hard work and dedication deserve recognition and appreciation. We want to lift up examples of women in different fields who inspire us all to greater community service,” stated Dr. Dorothy I. Height, president and CEO of the National Council of Negro Women (p. 2).
The program included leadership contests and fundraising breakfasts for the local Sections of NCNW in the following cities: Charleston, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Houston, New Orleans, and Philadelphia. The program culminated with a national winner being selected by a panel of judges from NCNW. The winner was named the “Black Woman Community Leader of the Year” during an awards breakfast in Chicago, headquarters of the Quaker Oats Company. The program did receive some objection from the black community, however.
AUNT JEMIMA’S LEGACY
Trademark designs form a panoramic image of American popular culture, and Aunt Jemima has carved herself an indelible place by being nationally known for over a century. Regardless of their original purpose, trademarks are an important entity in society. They are responsible for documenting the socialization and acculturation processes of people. By carefully scrutinizing the transformation of the Aunt Jemima trademark it is easy to note changing attitudes toward black Americans. By examining the physical attributes, language, and situation it is easy to see the changes that have occurred.
“Trademarks and package designs form an important part of our experience of being Americans. These are the symbols—the personalities—of the products we have bought, of the food we have eaten, and of the companies that we have relied on throughout our lives.” (Morgan, 1986, p. 13)
Because Aunt Jemima’s manufacturers were so skillful in integrating the symbol into American culture, it has had a profound impact on the image that blacks have had of themselves and of the image whites have had of blacks. Going beyond that point, black women saw themselves confined to a low economic status in life; even though free, they were slaves to a stereotypical symbol. Despite their fortitude the mammy phenomenon always put them back into the plantation kitchen. This concept was artfully outlined by Deborah Gray White, author of Ar’n’t I a Woman? (1985):
In the pictures painted by Americans, Mammy towered behind every orange blossom, mint julep, erring white child, and gracious Southern lady. … In the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s Hollywood film producers and New York advertising agencies built their own monuments to Mammy. With their films, their pancake boxes, and their syrup bottles, they imprinted the image of Mammy on the American psyche more indelibly perhaps than ever before. We probably can not measure the effect of the mass packaging of Mammy with precision, but the fact is that Mammy became a national symbol of perfect domesticity at the very time that millions of black women were leaving the cotton fields of the South in search of employment in Northern urban areas. Surely there is some connection between the idea of Mammy, the service and domestic jobs readily offered to black women, and their near-exclusion from other kinds of work. (p. 165)
Were Chris Rutt, Charles Underwood, or any of the other manufacturers aware of the deeper implications of the pervasiveness of Aunt Jemima on American society and culture? Did they foresee the intrinsic values of the symbolism that they so meticulously promoted? Was it perchance that they wanted just to sell pancakes but instead circumscribed the aspirations and dreams of a whole race? Because of their concerted abilities to create a trademark with a personality that transcended all usual marketing expectations, they moved Aunt Jemima beyond the breakfast table into the American culture and psyche.
Aunt Jemima slipped into the consciousness of black Americans like old age sneaks into our existence and surfaced in some very unconventional ways. In a game called “playing the dozens” young blacks would exhibit their communication prowess by stating, “Hey man, ain’t ya’ momma on the pancake box?” Stated as fast as one could, this would ultimately sound like, “Aunt Jemima on the pancake box.” It was often used as a method of verbal defense during a friendly exchange of insults that “transcended all socioeconomic levels within the African American community” (Jewell, 1993, p. 62).
Again, Aunt Jemima makes history by becoming one of the few trademarks that have remained a part of consumer-oriented products for more than 100 years. The promotional and marketing savvy of the trademark’s owners has been unquestionably ingenious. They have been pioneers in American advertising, and in so doing have made a permanent mark in its history. By creating the first living trademark, the owners indirectly gave birth to Mr. Whipple (Charmin toilet tissue) and Madge (Palmolive dishwashing liquid) and made Aunt Jemima a household word.
It should be noted, however, that the insight to modify Aunt Jemima’s image was not solely the idea of her owners. Quaker Oats, like so many other companies, was given the impetus to change because of the concerted efforts of organizations concerned about the concepts such stereotypical portrayals were forging in young, impressionable minds.
Appendix: Chronology of Important Dates in the History of Aunt Jemima
1889 Pearl Milling Company founded by Charles Rutt and Chris Underwood.
Creation of the first ready mixed pancake flour.
Aunt Jemima chosen by Charles Rutt as advertising’s first living trademark.
Aunt Jemima Manufacturing Company replaces Pearl Milling Company.
1890 Aunt Jemima trademark registered by Bert Underwood, brother of Chris.
Aunt Jemima Manufacturing Company sold to R. T. Davis Milling Company.
1893 Nancy Green debuts as Aunt Jemima at World’s Columbian Exhibition, Chicago, 1893.
1895 Aunt Jemima paper dolls introduced.
1900 Master of promotional strategies for Aunt Jemima trademark, R. T. Davis, dies.
1903 Reorganization of R. T. Davis Milling Company.
1905 Aunt Jemima rag dolls introduced.
1914 R. T. Davis Milling Company reincorporated as Aunt Jemima Mills Company.
1926 Aunt Jemima Mills Company sold to Quaker Oats Company for
1940s Painted package illustration of Aunt Jemima becomes a realistic photograph.
1955 Aunt Jemima Restaurant opens at Disneyland.
1960s Aunt Jemima image featured on packages and in advertising campaigns becomes a composite.
Introduction of Aunt Jemima frozen foods.
1989 Aunt Jemima trademark is 100 years old.
1989 Trademark modified and reintroduced on May 27.
1991 Quaker Oats/Aunt Jemima forms an alliance with the National
Council of Negro Women.
1. During the Middle Ages, pancakes became associated with the celebration preceding Lent. It became the custom to eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday as a means of using up fats before the Lenten fast began. Shrove Tuesday may have been patterned after an ancient Roman feast held in the early spring.
2. The full verses of “Old Aunt Jemima” appear in J. H. Haverly’s Genuine Colored Minstrels Songster (Chicago, 1880).
3. Fielder and Fielder Mold and Die Works was a favorite for the production of premium giveaways: Salt and pepper shakers for several well-known companies in the guise of the Campbell Kids, a pair of penguins, “Willie” and “Millie,” for Kool cigarettes, and a dog and cat set representing Ken-L-Ration pet food were all used as gimmicks to increase name recognition.
4. The price of the cookie jars ranges from $100 to $500, and they are quite rare. The syrup pitchers are valued at $30, and the salt and pepper shaker sets (in mint condition) sell for $50. It is unusual to find the complete family of items, although some do exist.
5. Today Aunt Jemima is primarily associated with pancakes, flour, syrup, corn meal, and grits.
6. Here are ten of the most common syntactic features of black dialect found in many earlier writings, as cited in Marlene G. Fine, Carolyn Anderson, and Gary Eckles, “Black English on Black Situation Comedies,” Journal of Communication, Summer 1979, pp. 21–29:
- Deletion of the past tense marker of the verb, e.g., “passed” = “pass.”
- Deletion of the s suffix for the third person present tense, e.g., “he run home” = “he runs home.”
- Deletion of the auxiliary verb, e.g., “you hear” = “do you hear.”
- Deletion of the copula, e.g., “you tired” = “you are tired.”
- Use of “be” to mean habitation, e.g., “he be workin’.”
- Negative concord, e.g., “don’t nobody know” = “nobody knows.”
- Plural subject with singular form of “be,” e.g., “they is.”
- Deletion of the s suffix marking the possessive, e.g., “John book” = “John’s book.”
- Deletion of the s suffix marking the plural, e.g., “whole lotta song” = “a lot of songs.”
- Use of a pleonastic noun, e.g., “John, he live in New York” = “John lives in New York.”
7. For more about the makeover, see: Julie Liesse Erickson, “Aunt Jemima Makeover,” Advertising, May 1, 1989, p. 8; “Aunt Jemima Gets New Hairdo, Keeps Same Smile,” Bryan-College Station Eagle, April 28, 1989, p. 9; “Aunt Jemima Grays,” Houston Post, April 28, 1989, p. A2; “Quaker Oats Is Shedding New Light on Aunt Jemima,” Wall Street Journal, April 28, 1989, p. A4; “You’ve Come a Long Way, Jemima,” Emerge, January 1990, p. 31; “Aunt Jemima Updated,” Houston Chronicle, April 30, 1989, p. 2A; “Aunt Jemima Trademark to Get 1990s Makeover,” Jet, May 15, 1989.
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Wilkinson, Doris Y. 1988. “The Toy Menagerie: Early Images of Blacks in Toys, Games and Dolls.” In Jessie Carney Smith, ed., Images of Blacks in American Culture. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.
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