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Aunt Jemima‘s descendants are demanding some stacks from Quaker Oats, and we’re not talking about pancakes!
The heirs of Anna Short Harrington, whom you might remember as the face of the Aunt Jemima brand, have filed a class action lawsuit over claims that she’s been exploited for decades. TheWrap.com reports that her great-grandsons D.W. Hunter and Larnell Evans are seeking $2 billion in unpaid royalties from Quaker Oats, PepsiCo, Hillshire Farms, and Pinnacle Foods.
According to court documents, Quaker Oats used Anna’s pancake recipe and trademarked her image for Aunt Jemima after meeting her while she was making flapjacks at the 1935 New York State Fair.
CNN Money reports that Anna then went on to portray Aunt Jemima for 15 years, which was almost up until her death in 1955. Larnell and D.W. have accused Quaker Oats of cheating her estate, claiming that the company never intended to pay royalties even though it still profits from her likeness by using derivatives of her image to sell their pancake-related products.
D.W. and Larnell believe that Quaker Oats, PepsiCo and Pinnacle Foods also plotted to deny that Anna worked for them by claiming that they couldn’t find any pictures of her or her employment record. However, Anna’s death certificate lists Quaker Oats as her employer. They couldn’t sue without that proof. Her family members also say it has her image on file at the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
Quaker Oats has also been accused of using industrial spies to steal Anna’s pancake. Her great-gradsons also claim the company discriminated against her and her family by “reflecting an innate form of disrespect towards African-American people in general.”
Anna’s depiction alone was disrespectful enough as it played very close to Mammy territory. In fact, many people will often refer to Aunt Jemima and Mammy in the same breath when talking about disparaging images of black women like they did in this episode of “A Different World” below.
Neither Quaker Oats nor PepsiCo have commented on the legal action at this time, but their fellow defendant Pinnacle Foods stated in an e-mail, “Our policy is not to comment on threatened or pending litigation.”