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Were Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben, and Mrs. Butterworth Real People?

Updated on June 20, 2020
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Margaret Minnicks is a health-conscious person who researches the health benefits of foods and drinks.

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Quaker Oats is retiring the Aunt Jemima brand of pancake mix and syrup that have been around for 130 years. There have been criticisms about the packaging and image of a Black woman as the logo. The packaging has been changed six times over the years.

Quaker Oats of Chicago, now a subsidiary of PepsiCo, announced on Wednesday, June 17, 2020 that the company is finally changing the name and package by the Fall in an effort to make progress toward racial equality.

Now that Aunt Jemima is in recent news, people want to know if the Black woman on the package is a real person. The answer is "Yes" and "No." That's because Aunt Jemima is based on a caricature of a real Black woman named Nancy Green.

Who Was Nancy Green?

Nancy Green was born into slavery in Montgomery County, Kentucky. She was hired by the R.T. Davis Milling Company when she was 56 years old. She signed a lifetime contract to promote the breakfast products.

She promoted the products at the Chicago World Fair. She also traveled around the country representing the pancake mix and syrup. The products became extremely popular. Nancy honored her contract and stayed on her job until she died in a car crash in 1923.

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Uncle Ben's Rice

Uncle Ben's is the brand name for parboiled rice and other related food products made by Mars, Inc. that were launched in 1943. So, is Uncle Ben a real person?

According to Mars' website, "No, Uncle Ben was not a real person and is, instead, a fictional character." However, the Black man who has appeared as the mascot of Uncle Ben’s since 1946, is an image of a Chicago Maître d’hôtel named Frank Brown.

Brown was an elderly African-American man dressed in a dark suit, white shirt, bow tie, and a bright smile. Brown was chosen for the brand because he was the best rice grower around, but some people view his image as a racist stereotype. Today, Uncle Ben's products are sold worldwide and are top-selling rice in the United States.

On June 17, 2020, Mars, Inc. announced there would be a change in the packaging and logo. Like Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben's name and the package will change to eliminate racist stereotypes.

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Mrs. Butterworth Syrup

Mrs. Butterworth syrup is also getting a makeover like Aunt Jemima's pancakes and syrup and Uncle Ben's rice. Conagra announced the company intends to do away with the racist stereotype associated with Mrs. Butterworth as a loving grandmother.

Conagra said in a statement that the company will do its part to fight racism and racial injustice. So, is Mrs. Butterworth real?

Mrs. Butterworth's picture is not on the bottle, but the bottle itself is in the shape of a Black woman who was reportedly based on Thelma "Butterfly" McQueen character in Gone with the Wind.

Like Aunt Jemima, Mrs. Butterworth is a "mammy" figure which is a racial stereotype about Black women. McQueen was a successful Broadway dancer before she landed that role on the classic show. She didn't like playing the part of a maid in Gone with the Wind, but she went on to play the role of a maid in many more movies in the 1940s.

She eventually announced that she would no longer play roles that reinforced racial stereotypes. She said she accepted the part the first time to get into acting. However, after she played a maid over and over she resented it.

McQueen ended up working odd jobs to make a living. She worked as a seamstress, a salesperson, a taxi dispatcher, a real-life maid, and a companion to an elderly woman. She died at the age of 84 after a fire occurred in her cottage.

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Cream of Wheat

B&G Foods is set to change the mascot for its cream of wheat because of a racist stereotype. Chef Rastus has been featured on its packaging since 1890 and has received criticisms over the years because the name is considered derogatory that is associated with African-American men. The character of Rastus had been depicted as an illiterate cook.

Like the other three companies, B&G Foods will make changes to the chef image to eliminate racist stereotypes.

Four Companies

Four companies are planning to change the names of their products and give them new packages. Expect those changes to be made in the near future.

  1. Quaker Oats/PepsiCo: Aunt Jemima pancake mix and syrup
  2. Mars: Uncle Ben's brand of rice
  3. Conagra Brands: Mrs. Butterworth syrup
  4. B&G Foods: Cream of Wheat farina

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    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      13 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      How very interesting to learn of items that were revered in our kitchen growing up. I am sorry that they hurt people's deep feelings. So be gone with them I say. Done properly we are not erasing history, simply making our own. Thanks

    • Tim Truzy info4u profile image

      Tim Truzy 

      13 months ago from U.S.A.

      I think it's great these companies are realizing who buy their products and rethinking about the good of the nation. People tend to forget a truth which has been proven repeatedly in studies: symbols, regardless of being subtle or overt, have the impact of influencing the way we think about things. Curiously enough, their are Black successful chefs who could probably be persuaded to have their photos on these products with a name change. Thanks.

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