Quaker says it’s ending Aunt Jemima brand; Hawkins woman was second to play character

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The decision by Quaker Oats to retire the 130-year-old Aunt Jemima brand because it was based on a racial stereotype has hit close to home in Wood County.

Lillian Herbert Richard, who is buried at Fouke cemetery, was one of the many actresses who portrayed Aunt Jemima. Richard was Aunt Jemima from 1925 until 1947 when she had a stroke and was unable to continue. Now, decades later, the company wants to end using the Aunt Jemima likeness as well. There is also talk of removing the state historical marker at the Fouke Community Center.

Because of Richard, Hawkins became known as the “Pancake Capital of Texas” in 1995 when Texas state Senator David Cain introduced legislation making the designation. The historical marker in the Fouke community was dedicated in her name June 30, 2012.

Richard traveled throughout the south in support of the Aunt Jemima brand at a time when job opportunities were few for Black females. To most in the Hawkins area, Richard remains a folk hero.  

In an interview with Tyler’s KLTV, Vera Harris, a second cousin to Richard, told about the pride in her relative.

“We want the world to know our cousin Lillian was one of the Aunt Jemimas and she made an honest living out of it for a number of years,” Harris said. “She was considered a hero in Hawkins. We are proud of that and don’t want it erased.”

Richard was born in Hawkins and in 1911 moved to Dallas where she was working as a cook when she landed the job as Aunt Jemima. Aunt Jemima’s appearance has evolved over time. The brand’s origin and logo is based off the song “Old Aunt Jemima” from a minstrel show performer and reportedly sung by slaves. 

The logo was started in 1890 and was based on a lady named Nancy Green who was a storyteller, cook and a missionary worker who had been born into slavery. The Aunt Jemima logo originated as a  “mammy,” who was a devoted and submissive servant who eagerly nurtured the children of her white master and mistress. 

The company also ran ads for several decades, with actresses personifying the mammy stereotype. It evolved the logo over the years and even hired singer Gladys Knight as a spokeswoman in the 1990s. Today, Aunt Jemima describes itself as a brand that stands for “warmth, nourishment and trust — qualities you’ll find in loving moms from diverse backgrounds who want the very best for their families.”

After a nationwide reckoning on race following the death of George Floyd in police custody, the company decided to make the changes.

The Aunt Jemima brand plans to donate $5 million over the next five years to “create meaningful, ongoing support and engagement in the African-American community.