Aunt Jemima 1890-2020.

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( Aunt Jemima is gone.  After 130 years, the longest run in U.S. trademark history, her corporate masters are finally retiring her likeness.  No specific reason was given for her “cause of death”, but I think we all know what it was.  Her brand wasn’t going to sell as well, or as much, anymore.

Jemima was born in the imaginations of Chris Rutt and Charles Underwood in St. Joseph, Missouri.  Her origin story came out of the minstrel show tradition.  Which, incidentally, started in New York City and not Dixie.  In fact, the most famous and highest paid performer of that genre was a Russian-born Jewish guy who was the toast of Broadway named Asa Yoelson: better known as Al Jolson.

Six years after Jemima was “born”, the Supreme Court rendered its decision in Plessy v. Ferguson saying “segregation wasn’t discrimination”, negating the 14th Amendment to the Constitution and giving legitimacy to Jim Crow; another figure of minstrelsy.  Soon, a host of caricatures would gain their own trademarks: Uncle Ben, Rastus (Cream of Wheat) and the ever popular Little Black Sambo.

Even though Congress “killed” Jim Crow with passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawing discrimination in public places based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin, Jemima, and her merry band of Ben, Rastus and Sambo lived on.  James Crow, Esq. took the place of the old Jim Crow.

You have to wonder, what kind of minds would dream up such stereotypes for their entertainment and profit?  Why would they feel it necessary to denigrate an entire people to feel better about themselves?  How could such images gain such wide notoriety and longevity?  Beats me.

But we see today a Yankee president from New York talking about saving “our” heritage by maintaining Confederate statues.  Except that his father was arrested for marching with the Klan, what does he know about Southern heritage?  And his bleach gargling followers love it.

May Jemima Rest In Peace.  Or, is it good riddance?  The first live actress who portrayed Jemima lies in an unmarked pauper’s grave.  At least the fictional Jemima was given press attention at her sendoff.  Ben and Rastus’ fates are in question.

Aunt Jemima was preceded in death by too many nieces and nephews to count.  The famous, like Martin and Medgar, and the lesser known like Sandra and George.  Black lives that were precious, and mattered to somebody.

Like Fannie Lou Hamer, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”  Tired of fighting battles supposedly won over one hundred and fifty-five years ago.  Tired of hearing about a “cause” that was lost.  Who builds monuments to losers anyway?

But we ain’t done yet.  “We will march on ‘til victory is won.”


Staff Writer; Harry Sewell