Quaker Foods North America has identified one of its most popular brands – Aunt Jemima – for perpetuating a racist stereotype of Black people. Because it shows the woman as a “mammy” and acknowledged that the brand that has earned them millions of dollars has “origins based on a racial stereotype,” the company felt it was time to modernize their offering. But the family of the original woman used to create the logo does not want her face to disappear from the packaging because the role of Aunt Jemima made her a cult hero in Texas.
The image of Aunt Jemima on the packaging is actually Lillian Richard, who worked for Quaker Oats brand for 23-years of her life starting in 1925. Although the company announced that it would be rebranding Aunt Jemima to something less racist, the family of Richard does not want them to remove her face entirely.
A second cousin of Lillian Richard, Vera Harris, has stepped forward to fight back against the proposed change. She doesn’t want her distant relative’s face removed from the packaging because she has become a cult hero in Texas for her role in the brand’s development over the years.
Few black women were able to get work prior to the Civil Rights movement. However, Quaker Oats found a way to exploit Lillian Richard back in the 1920s and turn her face into an iconic brand. But do you think Richards’ family received their fair share of the profits?
Vera Harris fears that her family will lose their claim to fame if Richard’s face is stripped from the Aunt Jemima brand packaging. There is even a historical marker dedicated to Richard in her hometown of Fouke, Texas. Since she was one of few black women to get work in racist America, she was honored to be such an influencer for the Aunt Jemima brand. But was she truly breaking ground, or was she just being used because she fit a convenient stereotype?
Harris is speaking out, so people get a complete view of who Richard was and how her placement on Aunt Jemima’s packaging was a big deal for her and her family.
“A lot of people want it removed,” Harris told KLTV. “We want the world to know that our cousin Lillian was one of Aunt Jemima’s, and she made an honest living. We would ask that you reconsider just wiping all that away. There wasn’t a lot of jobs, especially for black women back in that time. She was discovered by Quaker Oats to be their brand person. She made an honest living out of it for a number of years. She toured around Texas. She was considered a hero in Hawkins, and we are proud of that. We do not want that history erased.”
Another woman Anna S. Harrington, a former sharecropper, began playing Aunt Jemima in 1935 and reached national recognition. Her great-grandsons sued Quaker Oats in 2014 because the brand failed to pay Nancy Green, the enslaved woman whose face was used for the original Aunt Jemima brand back in 1834.