WTVM Editorial 6-26-20: The real role models

Published: Jun. 26, 2020 at 12:14 PM EDT
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(WTVM) - Several major corporations have moved to eliminate the familiar icons of some well-known brands like Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup, Uncle Ben’s rice and Aunt Jemima pancake mix.

The companies released statements saying the time is now to replace their marketing with less racially charged images and trademarks.

One of those iconic trademarks was Aunt Jemima, who appeared on the first self-rising pancake mix invented in 1889.

The popular product originally featured the image of a real black woman named Nancy Green.

We think her accomplishments are worthy of note as changes large and small are happening very quickly in reaction to current events.

Nancy Green was the first African American woman hired as a corporate representative and this was back in 1890. She wasn’t just the symbol of Aunt Jemima. She toured the country selling it and through her hard work made Aunt Jemima Pancake Mix the most popular brand of its kind.

Nancy Green’s high public profile enabled her to become an effective anti-poverty and equal rights activist 120 years ago.

She worked hard trying to expand the trademark of Aunt Jemima beyond a racial stereotype toward traditional southern hospitality. Green raised three million dollars, on her own, outside of her work, for charities including the Boys Club in the years before she died in 1923.

The Aunt Jemima image changed over the years and the last real person to inhabit the brand was Ethel Harper in the fifties. Harper was an Alabama native who earned a college degree at the age of just 17.

She was an entertainer who excelled enough to be invited to perform at the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem. Harper went on to teach Black History and run Girl Scouts councils after her successful advertising career.

These smart and accomplished black women were role models of their time and would still be role models today.

Their achievements are all the more inspiring because they did all this during a time of undeniable racism.

Updating product trademarks is often done to reflect modern times and it is smart business.

But we should never lose sight of the real stories behind some of the unsung and often forgotten women and men who battled racism on their own terms. They made the narrow path toward equality and civil rights a little wider for everyone to follow.

General Manager Holly Steuart brings an editorial a week to WTVM. If you would like to respond to an editorial, e-mail your response to hsteuart@wtvm.com or write to:

WTVM Editorial Committee

1909 Wynnton Road

Columbus, GA 31906

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