The Myth of Aunt Jemima: Representations of Race and Region

By Diane Roberts | Go to book overview

NOTES

INTRODUCTION

1
See Cathy Campbell, “A Battered Woman Rises” and Marilyn KernFoxworth, “Plantation Kitchen to American Icon: Aunt Jemima” on the history of Aunt Jemima as a brand image. The first “real” Aunt Jemima was Nancy Green, born a slave in 1834, hired by Charles Rutt, inventor of the pancake mix, to publicize it at the 1893 World Columbian Exhibition in Chicago, Illinois. The second Aunt Jemima—still the basis for the image—was Ethel Ernestine Harper, who had been a singer. Both women, as Campbell points out, were activists: “while Aunt Jemima was associated with Uncle Tom, behind the scenes Nancy Green and Ethel Ernestine Harper were cooking up antipoverty programs. ”
2
Margaret Ferguson’s essay “Juggling the Categories of Race, Class and Gender” uses the image of juggling to illustrate the difficulties inherent in dealing with the categories of race, gender and class.
3
I should point out that the extreme polarization of white over black is a feature of the plantation classes. Poor whites and small farmers may have been aware of the “elevation” of the white woman, based on the degradation of the black, but ladyhood was the prerogative of the rich; poor white women worked in the fields as slaves did. Certainly, however, poor whites still felt a sense of racial superiority to blacks, a division of the lower classes along racial lines which served powerful whites long into the twentieth century.
4
I do agree with bell hooks that white women’s oppression and blacks’ oppression are not equivalent: “Theoretically, the white woman’s legal status under patriarchy may have been that of ‘property, ’ but she was in no way subjected to the dehumanization and brutal oppression that was the lot of the slave” (hooks 126).
5
In his magisterial To Wake the Nations: Race and the Making of American Literature, Eric Sundquist speaks of “the general failure of American writers to confront the nation’s most pressing moral challenge…. Or, one should say, the failure of white writers, not of black” (29). Or, I should say, male writers, not female. During the nineteenth century, hundreds of women writers, not just the two mentioned by Sundquist

-196-

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The Myth of Aunt Jemima: Representations of Race and Region
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Uncle Tom's Cabin 23
  • 2 - Instigated by the Devil 55
  • 3 - Miss Wright, Mrs Trollope and Miss Martineau 77
  • 4 - The Strange Career of Fanny Kemble 102
  • 5 - Olla Podrida America 127
  • 6 - Jemima and Jezebel in the New South 153
  • Notes 196
  • Bibliography 215
  • Index 225
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