He condemned the move as an attempt by Quaker Oats to erase slavery after profiting off of it.
Following Quaker Oats' decision to retire the iconic Aunt Jemima brand, a great-grandson of Anna Short Harrington—a Black woman who became the face of the brand—protested the decision as a move to erase Black history and suffering. Quaker Oats announced last week that the 130-year-old brand will get a new name and image as it recognizes that "Aunt Jemima's origins are based on a racial stereotype." The move which came in the wake of global anti-racism protests following the death of George Floyd was condemned by Harrington's great-grandson Larnell Evans Sr. as an attempt to erase slavery after profiting off of it.
Speaking to Patch, Evans Sr.—a Marine Corps veteran—said, "This is an injustice for me and my family. This is part of my history. The racism they talk about, using images from slavery, that comes from the other side — white people. This company profits off images of our slavery. And their answer is to erase my great-grandmother's history. A Black female... It hurts." According to NBC News, Quaker has modified the Aunt Jemima image a few times over the years in response to growing criticism that the brand perpetuated a racist stereotype dating back to the days of slavery.
"We recognize Aunt Jemima's origins are based on a racial stereotype," said Kristin Kroepfl, vice president and chief marketing officer of Quaker Foods North America, in a news release. "As we work to make progress toward racial equality through several initiatives, we also must take a hard look at our portfolio of brands and ensure they reflect our values and meet our consumers' expectations." When Aunt Jemima first debuted at Chicago's World's Fair in 1893, the character was portrayed by a formerly enslaved woman named Nancy Green, who worked as a cook on the South Side. She wore an apron and headscarf while serving pancakes to folks who came to visit the fairgrounds known as "The White City" and played the character until her death in 1923.
Harrington, who was born on a South Carolina plantation and was bought by a white family to be their maid in 1927, stepped into Green's shoes in 1935 after a Quaker Oats representative saw her serving pancakes at the New York State Fair. The company used her image in product and advertising and sent her around the country to serve flapjacks dressed as Aunt Jemima. In a 2014 lawsuit seeking $3 billion from Quaker Oats, Evans and a nephew claimed the brand had also adopted her pancake recipe. However, their demand for royalties was nixed after the Federal court ruled that they were not executors of Harrington's estate, thereby making them ineligible to sue in her name.
"She worked for that Quaker Oats for 20 years. She traveled all the way around the United States and Canada making pancakes as Aunt Jemima for them. This woman served all those people, and it was after slavery. She worked as Aunt Jemima," said Evans. "That was her job... How do you think I feel as a black man sitting here telling you about my family history they're trying to erase?" The 66-year-old veteran living on disability in North Carolina stated that his family and Black Americans deserve much more from corporations of the likes of Quaker Oats than simply moving on after acknowledging that they profited off images of slavery.
Y’all literally do know that Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben, and Rastus from the Cream of Wheat brand are all racist depictions of black people right? Cuz it’s late and I don’t mind giving y’all a racism in advertising lesson before bed. pic.twitter.com/NmrVLsIdcu— Elle (@KissedByElle) June 17, 2020
"How many white people were raised looking at characters like Aunt Jemima at breakfast every morning? How many white corporations made all them profits, and didn't give us a dime? I think they should have to look at it. They can't just wipe it out while we still suffer," he said. "After making all that money —and now's the time when black people are saying we want restitution for slavery — they're just going to erase history like it didn't happen?... They're not going to give us nothing? What gives them the right?"