Nancy Green was the first Aunt Jemima in 1890. Born a slave in 1834 in Kentucky, her likeness is now a staple in households throughout the country.
Now, a lawsuit claims that Green’s heirs as well as descendants of other black women who appeared as Aunt Jemima are entitled to $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 Short 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, current owner of the brand, said this past month in response to the lawsuit 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,” according to a statement from Quaker Oats, a subsidiary of PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP). “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 bosses, but Harrington’s descendants contend they exist.
According to the lawsuit, Quaker Oats and other companies “made false promises to Nancy Green…and Anna Harrington.” It adds that each time their “name, voice or likeness was used in connection with the products or goods, (the ladies) would receive a percentage of the monies or royalties received.”
Thoughts on the lawsuit?
Does it represent yet another instance of whites getting rich off of the contributions of blacks?
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