Aunt Jemima pancake mix and syrup is one of the most ubiquitious brands in America, which makes it hard to remember that it’s based on a caricature of several black women — but one in particular.
Anna Short Harrington was selected for the role of "Aunt Jemima" in 1935 and Quaker Oats trademarked her image and likeness in 1937. According to For Harriet, she was selected because of her own pancake recipe, which was then recreated for store shelves. When Harrington died in 1955, her family says that Quaker Oats was listed on her death certificate as her employer, but the company denies that she was an employee.
Her great grandson, D.W. Hunter, is now suring Quaker Oats for $2 billion plus punitive damages because the company has refused to their share of royalties for using Harrington’s recipe and image.
From The Wrap:
The suit further alleges a racial element to the exploitation of Harrington and the other women who portrayed Aunt Jemima, going so far as to accuse the company of theft in procuring 64 original formulas and 22 menus from Harrington. It further alleges that Harrington was dissuaded from using a lawyer, exploiting her lack of education and age, so that thecompany could not pay her a percentage of sales from her recipes.