*Descendants of women who appeared as “Aunt Jemima” are suing PepsiCo, owner of Quaker Oats and the Aunt Jemima brand, saying they deserve $2 billion and a share of revenue from future sales.
Heirs of Nancy Green, who was the first Aunt Jemima “Mammy” in 1890, and two great-grandsons of Anna Short Harrington, filed the lawsuit, stating Green and Harrington were also instrumental in developing the Aunt Jemima recipe, reports The Courier Journal.
Green was born a slave in Kentucky and moved to Chicago following the Civil War. She worked as a cook for Judge Charles Walker, who reportedly recommended her for the Aunt Jemima position.
After Green’s death in 1923, descendants say Harrington was recruited to represent Aunt Jemima after the 1935 World’s Fair and claim she changed the recipe to include “potato grease.”
The descendants believe Green and Harrington had contracts that said they would receive a percentage of the revenue earned every time their likeness was used, but no contracts have been located by either side.
Quaker Oats hired Harrington’s youngest daughter Olivia Hunter in 1989. Hunter’s likeliness was then used as the “updated version” of Aunt Jemima in product branding going forward.
A statement Quaker Oats gave The Courier Journal reads: “The image symbolizes a sense of caring, warmth, hospitality and comfort and is neither based on, nor meant to depict any one person. While we cannot discuss the details of pending litigation, we do not believe there is any merit to this lawsuit.”
However, the “Mammy” stereotype “romanticized the cruelty of slavery for a nation reconciling the trauma of the Civil War,” said Diane Roberts, author of The Myth of Aunt Jemima, in an interview with TheGrio.com. “It proved to white people that we couldn’t have been that mean to black people because ‘Mammy’ loves us.”
Harrington’s great-grandson Hunter called the recent lawsuit a “fight for the economic parity of rights of people whose civil and human rights have been violated.”