Aunt Jemima is best known as a brand of pancake mixes and syrups sold by the Quaker Oats Company since 1889. The image of Aunt Jemima has been controversial for over a hundred years. Based on the pre–Civil War (1861–65) stereotype of the fat, jolly, no-nonsense black "mammy," the character of Aunt Jemima was first introduced in minstrel shows (see entry under 1900s—Film and Theater in volume 1) in the late 1800s.
Quaker Oats is thought to have chosen the image of Aunt Jemima to promote the very first packaged pancake mix because the image of the kind and funny black mammy was comforting and safe to many white consumers. From the beginning, many African Americans found the image of the fat, smiling Aunt Jemima with a bandanna on her head to be an insulting glorification of slavery. Some fought to eliminate what they viewed as an offensive trademark. In response, Quaker Oats gave Aunt Jemima a makeover in the 1990s by removing the bandanna and making her fashionably thin. The company also hired famous black spokespeople like singer Gladys Knight (1944–) to advertise its products.
For More Information
Kern-Foxworth, Marilyn. Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben, & Rastus: Blacks in Advertising, Yesterday, & Tomorrow. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1994.
Manring, M. M. Slave in a Box: The Strange Career of Aunt Jemima. Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1998.
Patton, Phil. "Mammy: Her Life and Times." American Heritage (Vol. 44, no. 5, September 1993): pp. 78–86.