A flurry of corporate changes have followed in the wake of the George Floyd protests. Perhaps inspired by the Onion article suggesting that Aunt Jemima be replaced with Sheila, a bisexual black lawyer who loves skiing, parent company Pepsi Co decided to discontinue the brand. Indeed, the name Aunt Jemima came from a minstrel show and the image depicted a black "mammy" stereotype; not exactly the stuff of 2020. But with Uncle Ben and Mrs. Butterworth close behind, the dust-up raises an interesting point: while these depictions of black Americans are offensive, it seems odd in an age that calls for minority representation to simply wipe their faces out of our collective memories. I've got a better idea.
It turns out that the lady originally known as 'Aunt Jemima' was former slave, excellent cook, and philanthropist Nancy Green. In fact, Nancy Green holds the title of America's very first corporate spokesperson. She appeared at the Chicago World's Fair and charmed everyone so much that she was offered a lifetime contract. She went on to use the wealth she accrued to build up Olivet Baptist Church in Chicago, which was at that time the largest Protestant congregation in the world! The church made special efforts to help those Southern blacks coming North for jobs during the Great Migration, and Nancy funded these church-sponsored anti-poverty programs with her extra earnings. She also did missionary work herself.
As members of minority cultures have often had to do, Nancy Green made the best of an non-ideal situation by getting paid and using that money for her own enlightened purposes. So here's the proposal: why not rename the syrup Nancy Green's? The back of the bottle could tell her story. It could emphasize that Nancy Green didn't fit the stereotype the company used, but rather, lived a life of leadership in virtue and had great religious and social vision. Aunt Jemima can take a hike, but Nancy Green should not be forgotten.
Nancy has no living descendants, but we already know what she cared about: the black church in Chicago, and addressing poverty, particularly for other black people struggling to make it in tough circumstances. Pepsi Co does a lot of corporate giving and has recently pledged to do even more for the black community. But what about Nancy's causes? What about her vision that it's the historical black church who can do the best job of serving the community, if only empowered with the resources. And what about doing it in her name? Olivet Baptist Church still exists in Chicago, 169 years strong! And it's still doing wonderful things, including a ministry that works with recovering addicts.
While we sit around and argue about the justice and feasibility of state-sponsored reparations, we have many straightforward opportunities to make amends for harm done and to memorialize our past in a healthy way, right in front of us.
I'd buy Nancy Green syrup! Would you?