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Good Riddance to Aunt Jemima and Hello to Michele Foods By Cassiette West-Williams

What was once a breakfast fixture in some households may be replaced with a current Black woman’s syrup product. Michele Hoskins has been producing her great-great-great grandmother’s syrup for 35 years, but now that the Quaker Oats Company has retired its negative image of a woman of color, a newer producer is trying to attract those customers.

After the George Floyd murder in Minneapolis, MN, by a white police officer, some companies were pressured to become racially sensitive with their products. Quaker Oats, who is owned by the Pepsi Co brand, has made more than $500 million a year selling syrup – the Aunt Jemima brand product since 1893.

As it turned out, there have been 12 different models of “Aunt Jemima,” who were hired by the company thru the years to portray a stereotyped, fat, Black, mammy looking woman, who usually served as the cook and caretaker of a white family’s home. The pancake mix and syrup were created very early during the Jim Crow era, when white men, who owned a flour company, were unable to market their product. They sold their pancake flour and flour mill to a Missouri businessman, R.T. Davis Milling Company.

Missouri flew the confederate flag for many years and promoted the racist image that became Aunt Jemima by hiring a former slave, Nancy Green, of Chicago, IL to model as their brand name.

Ms. Green became the “face” of Aunt Jemima and prepared pancakes at Chicago’s 1893 World Columbian Exposition. She was the first woman to have an agreement with the flour mill company and they later hired 11 other women to portray her across the country.

Green died in 1923 and is buried in an unmarked grave in Chicago’s Oak Woods Cemetery. The family has given permission for a history professor, to purchase a tombstone for her grave. Family members were reached in Alabama for accuracy about Ms. Green, who was very active in the church community. 

The Quaker Oats company had been paying various Black family relatives for years since they were still using the Aunt Jemima image, but the pancake and syrup modeling has stopped and now will be eliminated. 

One of the family members brought Quaker Oats to court, saying that his relative was cheated out of her profits for the recipe of her syrup. The court dismissed his case, based on the fact that there is no written contract or documents to prove that Green or any of the 11 Black women created the recipe for the syrup or pancake mix.

Hoskins has been selling her great-great-great grandmother’s syrup for 35 years, with four employees. Her syrup has three different varieties and does not feature any Black person on the bottle.  She said the Aunt Jemima had previously captured 77% of the syrup market, but now she has an opportunity to expand on her family’s business and legacy.

In a press release, Quaker Oats said that they will contribute $5 million to the Black community in the future.