Great-grandson of Aunt Jemima actress angered by removal of character from products

The great-grandson of a woman who played the Aunt Jemima character for nearly 20 years said he was angry with Quaker Oats’ decision to change its logo and name on its pancake mix and syrup.

Larnell Evans Sr.‘s great-grandmother, Anna Short Harrington, portrayed the Aunt Jemima character from 1935 to 1954, the Syracuse Post-Standard reported. On Wednesday, Chicago-based Quaker Foods announced it would eliminate the Aunt Jemima brands in response to civil unrest in the wake of the death of George Floyd, an African American man who died May 25 when his neck was pinned by the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer for nearly nine minutes.

“This is an injustice for me and my family. This is part of my history, sir,” Evans told Patch. “The racism they talk about, using images from slavery, that comes from the other side -- white people. This company profits off images of our slavery. And their answer is to erase my great-grandmother’s history. A Black female. … It hurts.”

Harrington, a Syracuse resident, was discovered by representatives of the Quaker Oats Company while she was cooking pancakes at the 1935 New York State Fair, the Post-Standard reported. She was hired to dress up in the Aunt Jemima character and toured North America, promoting the brand.

Harrington, who cooked for many fraternity houses at Syracuse University, was the third “Aunt Jemima,” the newspaper reported. Nancy Green, a former slave, originated the role with an apron and headscarf in 1893.

Harrington was born in Bennettsville, South Carolina. She died Oct. 21, 1955, in Syracuse and is buried at Oakwood Cemetery in the city, according to her obituary in the Syracuse Herald American.

Evans, 66, a Marine Corps veteran living in North Carolina, told Patch that Quaker Oats should not try to erase history, the Post-Standard reported.

“This woman served all those people, and it was after slavery. She worked as Aunt Jemima. That was her job,” Evans said. “How do you think I feel as a Black man sitting here telling you about my family history they’re trying to erase?”

Quaker Oats said it will announce a new name for its pancake mix and syrup later this year.