Earlier this month, Quaker Oats decided to rename and thus rebrand their pancake and syrup products that showcased the Aunt Jemima character due to the recent pressures to erradicate racist icons in the media and elsewhere. Now, relatives of one of the actresses who portrayed Aunt Jemima over the years filed a federal lawsuit demanding reparations.
Larnell Evans, Jr., 47, is the great-great-grandson of Anna Short Harrington, who allegedly played Aunt Jemima at fairs and in advertisements starting in 1935.
According to The Daily Beast, back in 2014, Evans and his nephew, Dannez Hunter, “filed a federal lawsuit against PepsiCo, the corporate owner of Quaker Oats, alleging that Harrington had helped develop Aunt Jemima’s signature self-rising pancake mix, and that the company had used her likeness as its logo without providing proper compensation.”
They asked for $2 billion and a share of the sales revenue. The case was dismissed after Quaker Oats insisted Aunt Jemima was not based on Harrington.
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Evans, unhappy with the name change and ambivalent about their decision to change the logo and donate $5 million to various social justice causes, told The Daily Beast, “I guess you would say, that’s saving money.”
He continued, “She had her own recipes, which was very unique. You didn’t hear of people having their own recipes—especially working for Quaker Oats. You would think, working for Quaker Oats, whatever they hired them to do, that’s what they would do. And she was promoting Quaker Oats products. But she was also promoting her own products.”
He also added, “We had a family tree. We have all the death certificates. We have the obituaries. There’s no way that they can say, ‘Oh they’re not related.’ I always knew she played Aunt Jemima. That’s just a given fact.”
Born in 1897, Anna Short Harrington was hired by Quaker Oats to play Aunt Jemima in 1935, according to The Story of Aunt Jemima. It’s not clear how long she worked for the company.
The original image of Aunt Jemimia was reportedly modeled after a former enslaved woman named Nancy Green in 1890. Below is one of the earliest ads for Aunt Jemima.
(Photo by EVA HAMBACH/AFP via Getty Images)