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Who is the Guy on the Cream of Wheat Box?
Who is this guy?
In Search of an Answer
Most mornings, I like to make my favorite hot breakfast cereal, Cream of Wheat. I prepare mine the old fashioned way and cook it over the stove. This morning, while I was waiting for the water to boil, I grew bored and began reading the cereal box. While reading two things immediately struck me, 1) the Black chef logo had not changed much over my lifetime (still bearing that sweet disarming smile) and 2) I had no idea who this man was. I’m ashamed to admit that after forty-plus years of eating this cereal I never once paused to find out.
Right then I knew this was unacceptable. After pondering why I had become so desensitized to such things, I resigned myself to never allow it to happen again. I felt it was my obligation, duty to find out who this nameless man on the box was. Also, while I was at it, I intended to learn the identities of Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben and who they were as individuals. More than a century has passed since these stereotypical images first became popular in advertisement and indelibly imprinted on the American psyche. I needed to know why these negative relics of our past still persist.
I began my search by looking for some identifying marks on the cereal box. I found nothing to help but the website, http://www.creamofwheat.com. Naturally, I gave it a go. I learned cream of wheat now comes in cinnamon and chocolate flavors, but nothing about the logo. In the section called, “Cream of Wheat, A Look Back” I fully expected to find something about our gentleman, since several ancient ads done as far back as 1908 by illustrators N.C. Wyeth, J.C. Leyendecker and Henry Hutt were posted. Still, I found nothing.
In the end I was reduced to searching the term, “Who is the guy on the front of the Cream of Wheat box?”, and viola I got my answer! Sadly, it wasn’t a happy one. Wikipedia says his real name was Emery Mapes. He was supposedly the model who posed for artist, Edward V. Brewer who dubbed his final work, “Rastus”. Supposedly, because there was some controversy whether or not this fact was accurate after another man, Frank L. White emphatically claimed he had been the model prior to his death in 1938. On June 15, 2007, Fox News reported that although evidence to support Mr. White’s claim had been uncovered, he was unceremoniously laid to rest in an unmarked grave. The family researcher who re-discovered this evidence initiated a successful campaign, also in 2007, to purchase a headstone for Mr. White which included an etching of his image as shown on the cereal box.
Aunt Jemima (Now)
Search for Aunt Jemima
The character, “Aunt Jemima” was inspired by an 1889 minstrel show featuring a white man dressed in blackface, handkerchief and scarf. The owner of a flour mill wanted to use the character in his marketing campaign for ready-made pancake mix and unsuccessfully tried to appropriate the character. It was only after he sold his business to R.T. Davis Milling Company along with the logo depicting the southern charm of an idealized slave was the campaign persuasive enough to capture the fascination of northern whites’. The character became internationally famous at the 1893 World’s Exposition in Chicago, Illinois. A former slave, Nancy Green, was hired to portray the “Aunt Jemima” character at the fair and was such a hit that she continued to do so until her death in 1923. The slogan of the pancake mix was, “I’s in Town, Honey!” The logo persists to this day with just one update to her appearance done on her 100th anniversary in 1989. “Mammy” finally was able to discard her maid costume to reveal her natural hair and a set of pearls. On another note, this mammy archetype was so prevalent it continued to inspire stereotypical products into the 1970s, including the “mammy” glass bottle of Mrs. Butterworth’s Pancake Syrup.
Instructions: How to Prepare Cream of Wheat
- Bring 1 cup of water to boil, adding a pinch of salt to flavor.
- When water is ready, slowly pour 1/2 cup of Cream of Wheat in a circular motion to avoid it collecting in a pile. Stir constantly while pouring to avoid lumps. Keep stirring until two minutes have elapsed.
In Search for Uncle Ben
The image of an elderly Black man sharply dressed in a bow tie as shown on the packaging of Uncle Ben’s Rice was made in the likeness of a domestic servant, Frank Brown, who served as maitre d’ of a Chicago hotel in 1942. His prominence within the ad campaign, although just as captivating to consumers for his southern hospitality and stoic demeanor, did not make him as famous as “Aunt Jemima”. This may be attributed to the fact that his persona was in homage to an actual person named “Uncle Ben”. Ben was an entrepreneur and rice grower, well known for his exceptional abilities to grow quality rice. It was good to learn this image was at least being used in a positive sense even though I am sure the descendants of Mr. Brown or Uncle Ben never received a dime in residuals.
Mrs. Butterworth's 1978
No Real Answer Found
By the time I finished my research, I was still left with the nagging question, “Why do these stereotypical images remain?” A Google search on this brought out several historical summaries and even some admissions that these offensive images still exist, but no explanation was ever given as to why. I can only guess that maybe the imagery reminds older White people of a time when they felt most secure and these old pictures might provide a source of comfort. Although I deplore the method, I can understand the maddening need to feel comforted. Especially in a time when new ground is constantly being broke on a daily basis. The problem is, when I look at these images they are a constant reminder that I am still subjectively considered to be an object to be used like a utensil, ostracized or worse tossed out like worthless trash. How can I (and others like me) find comfort in that?