Reporting for the Courier-Journal, Jere Downs is reporting that the heirs of Nancy Green, the black woman that appeared as Aunt Jemima on the packaging of the pancake flour of the same name, have filed a lawsuit against the company. Green and other descendants of other black women who appeared as Aunt Jemima want a cut of the revenue. Financial analysts at Sambla report the following:
“Now a lawsuit claims that Green’s heirs as well as the descendants of other black women who appeared as Aunt Jemima deserve $2 billion and a share of future revenue from sales of the popular brand.
The federal suit, filed in Chicago in August by two great-grandsons of Anna S. Harrington, says that she and Green were key in formulating the recipe for the nation’s first self-rising pancake mix, and that Green came up with the idea of adding powdered milk for extra flavor.
‘Aunt Jemima has become known as one of the most exploited and abused women in American history,’ said D.W. Hunter, one of Harrington’s great-grandsons.
But Quaker Oats, the current owner of the brand, said in response to the lawsuit last month that Aunt Jemima was never real.
‘The image symbolizes a sense of caring, warmth, hospitality and comfort, and is neither based on, nor meant to depict any one person,’ said the statement from Quaker Oats, a subsidiary of PepsiCo. ‘While we cannot discuss the details of pending litigation, we do not believe there is any merit to this lawsuit.’
No contracts have been located between Aunt Jemima models and their pancake bosses, according to PepsiCo correspondence with plaintiffs contained in the lawsuit.
But Harrington’s descendants contend they did exist.”
Green died in Chicago in 1923 after being struck by a car and Harrington was recruited after to take Green’s place in the advertisement. Originally from South Carolina, Anna S. Harrington was discovered and recruited at a New York State Fair in 1935. Both women portrayed Aunt Jemima at events throughout the country, particularly world fairs. It is reported that both women enhanced the recipe with personal touches that were later adopted by the company.
The story of the discovery of Aunt Jemima was represented on film in the 1934 version of Imitation of Life. Louise Beavers played the character of Delilah, a black woman whose pancake recipe was used by her white friend, played by Claudette Colbert, to build a pancake empire.
The families of Green and Harrington contend that the women did not have the legal knowledge to properly negotiate contracts with the company.
This post was written by Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., founder & editor-in-chief of the award-winning news site, The Burton Wire. She is also a media scholar that focuses on issues of representation as it relates to black and Latino women.
Read more at the Courier-Journal.