So, the Quaker Oats and PepsiCo Companies just all of sudden realized 131 years later that the mammy-like caricature, the Aunt Jemima brand is racist. Growing up, I remember seeing these slaves on the box (Aunt Jemima, Cream of Wheat, and Uncle Ben's) in my cabinets not knowing the history.
The removal of the Confederate flags, statues, and now stereotypical images is just one step of many that this country needs to recognize that African Americans have been dealing with this racism on a daily basis.
The Aunt Jemima image has evolved over the years from a dark-skinned, obese, wide white-eyed, big red lips, wearing a bandana with broken English language saying "Ise in town, Honey," "Tempt Yo' Appetite, and "Perk up yo' family's appetite with Aunt Jemima Buckwheats" to a slim, brown-skinned woman with a perm with curls and wearing pearl earrings.
For the past couple of years, I have been collecting memorabilia, researching, and traveling to locate the history of several women who portrayed Aunt Jemima either by appearances at events and/or on the radio.
Nancy Green was the first woman to portray Aunt Jemima. She was born a slave in 1834 in Kentucky. She moved to Chicago to work as a caretaker.
Chris Rutt and Charles Underwood of the Pearl Milling Co. developed Aunt Jemima, in 1889 and sold the Aunt Jemima Manufacturing Co. to R.T. Davis in 1890. R.T. Davis discovered and hired Green as the spokesperson at the age of 56. She made her first debut in 1893 at the World’s Colombian Exposition in Chicago where she sold 50,000 orders of pancake mix. Her storytelling and motherly personality proclaimed her the "Pancake Queen." Green was a founding member of Olivet Baptist Church in Chicago.
On September 14, 1923, Nancy Green, at the age of 89, was killed when she was hit by a car driven by Dr. H.S. Seymour. She is buried in an unmarked pauper's grave at Oak Woods Cemetery in Chicago. She is buried somewhere in Section R3, Lot 2.91
In the USA Today 2014 article, a lawsuit for $2 billion was filed on behalf of Green’s heirs and descendants of other women who portrayed Jemima against PepsiCo for royalties
Driving into Hawkins, TX, you will see a sign that says "Welcome to the City of Hawkins, Pancake Capital of Texas, Home of Lillian Richard, Aunt Jemima.
Richard was born on March 23, 1891. In 1925 Richard traveled around the country portraying Aunt Jemima. She retired in 1940 after working for Quaker Oats for 23 years when she suffered a stroke.
Richard died July 4, 1956, and is buried at Fouke Memorial Cemetery in TX. In 2001, the city council of Hawkins declared Lillian Richard Day. There is a historical marker dedicated to Lillian Richard outside of Hawkins, TX.
The family of Lillian Richard is not happy the company is removing the image of Aunt Jemima. A big part of their legacy is the Aunt Jemima brand and they feel that removing the Aunt Jemima's image will erase the history of Lillian Richard.
Maude Woodfork was born in 1892 in Lebanon, TX. She attended Tennessee State College studying dramatics and appeared on a Los Angeles Times radio station program. She moved to Chicago to pursue a career as an actress. She taught dramatics at Work Progress Administration (WPA)
Woodfork auditioned for a radio part with Quaker Oats and beat out 80 other actresses. Her annual salary was in the five-digit figures.
Maud A. Woodfork died in 1965. Her crypt is at Lincoln Cemetery in Chicago, IL. Her name on the crypt is different. Her first name is Maud without the E. Hugh C. Swift is interred in the same crypt as Woodfork. I would assume this is her husband.
Death Certificate of Maud Woodfork/Maude Swift
Edith Wilson was born on September 2, 1896. Wilson was a blues singer, actress and vaudeville performer. Wilson was one of the first African American actresses to allowed to perform on the White vaudeville circuit. She has performed with Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, and Cab Calloway. Wilson took the role of Kingfish's mother-in-law on the Amos and And radio program. She also appeared with Humphrey Bogart in ''To Have and Have Not.''
In 1946, Wilson worked for Quaker Oats as Aunt Jemima in public appearances, radio, and television. She quit her portrayal of Aunt Jemima in 1956 after receiving criticism from the African American community.
Wilson died March 30, 1981, and is buried at Mount Glenwood Memory Gardens South in Glenwood, IL. Unfortunately, she does not have a headstone. The cemetery has had several owners and that they don't know where she is buried but she is in Section E.
I went to the Woodson Regional Library, Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature in Chicago where Edith Wilson's personal photographs, programs, memorabilia are housed. I spent several hours reading her personal documentations. It was an amazing feeling knowing that Edith Wilson once touched these precious and important documents.