Relatives of Aunt Jemima Inspiration Seek Restitution From Quaker Oats

The complex legacy of Anna Short Harrington

Quaker Oats To Change Name, Remove Image Of Aunt Jemima Brand, As Other Brands Consider Changing Too
Bottles of Aunt Jemima pancake syrup are displayed on a shelf at Scotty's Market on June 17, 2020 in San Rafael, California.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

What happens when a brand’s newfound admission of its own problematic tendencies intersects with a family seeking to right a historical injustice? As it turns out, something like that is playing out right now, in the aftermath of Quaker Oats’ decision to change the name of Aunt Jemima maple syrup. From the 1930s through the 1950s, Anna Short Harrington portrayed Aunt Jemima at events on behalf of Quaker Oats.

In recent years, two of Harrington’s descendants have sought restitution from Quaker Oats, arguing that she was was not paid fairly for her work. Writing at The Daily Beast, Tarpley Hitt describes the situation:

Six years ago, [Larnell Evans, Jr.] and his nephew, Dannez Hunter, tried to confront Quaker Oats about their shared history in federal court. In September of 2014, they 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.

At the time, they sought $2 billion and a percentage of Quaker Oats’ earnings. The suit was dismissed earlier this month.

Hitt’s article notes that the company has maintained that Aunt Jemima is a wholly fictional character and that the character’s design had nothing to do with any of the people who portrayed the character — including Harrington and her predecessor in the role, Nancy Green. Evans and Hunter’s legal battle is over for now, but the issues that it raised remain all too relevant.

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