The heirs of women who appeared to the public as Aunt Jemima are now suing the Quaker Oats Company in a federal court in Chicago for a whopping $2 billion and a cut of future revenue.
The heirs contend that the original Aunt Jemimas — sort of the Progressive Insurance Flo characters of their time — got stiffed after they were promised royalties, according to The Courier-Journal.
The story proffered in the lawsuit is a complex one.
The plaintiffs, great-grandsons of Anna S. Harrington, assert that Harrington and a former slave named Nancy Green invented and helped to sell America’s first self-rising pancake mix. Green, the suit claims, is responsible for the addition of powdered milk to the recipe. Harrington made the formula even more delicious by throwing in “potato grease.”
Documents submitted as part of the lawsuit include an advertisement suggesting that the Aunt Jemima recipe is a “secret” concoction from the Deep South. Another ad identifies the pancakes recipe as a “magic” one that will “turn out dese tender, ‘licious, jiffy-quick pancakes.”
Green also hawked Aunt Jemima pancake mix at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair — the one that featured the planet’s first Ferris wheel.
She died in 1923, when she was still representing Aunt Jemima according to court documents. Around the same time, Quaker Oats purchased the Aunt Jemima brand.
Three of Harrington’s daughters subsequently represented themselves as Aunt Jemima on behalf of Quaker.
“Defendants were in position to exploit Nancy Green, and Anna Harrington, that came from plantations,” the lawsuit claims. Quaker Oats and the previous owners of the Aunt Jemima brand “made false promises” that Green and Harrington “would receive a percentage of the monies or royalties” when their likenesses were used.
D.W. Hunter, a great-grandson of Harrington’s, is one of the litigants.
“Aunt Jemima has become known as one of the most exploited and abused women in American history,” he told according to The Courier-Journal.
Quaker contends that there was never any person named Aunt Jemima.
“The image symbolizes a sense of caring, warmth, hospitality and comfort, and is neither based on, nor meant to depict any one person,” the company said in a statement.
Also, no contracts between Quaker and either Green or Harrington appear to exist.
Another huge problem for the plaintiffs is that the statute of limitations for their lawsuit almost certainly ran out a very long time ago regardless of the suit’s merits.
“If a person doesn’t take action within an applicable period of time, their claim goes away,” Louisville attorney Cox told The Courier-Journal.
Hunter, who calls himself a civil rights activist, described the case as a “fight for the economic parity of rights of people whose civil and human rights have been violated.” He also valiantly promised to purchase “agricultural crops from disenfranchised African women farmers” in Africa and Brazil if he succeeds with his $2 billion claim, according to the Louisville newspaper.