Remember a year ago when brands like Uncle Ben’s, Mrs. Buttersworth and others announced they would be changing their racially insensitive names to something more palatable? It all seemed to start with the announcement that the famous syrup brand Aunt Jemima would be disappearing after years of complaints. At the time the company conceded, “Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype.”

It happened in June of 2020 just weeks after the May 25 killing of George Floyd. Protests, and riots, broke out across the country. It became a summer of racial reckoning in America.

With any big story there always seems to be a Jersey connection. This held true with the Aunt Jemima story. While the logo was designed in the late 1800’s, real women portrayed Aunt Jemima in commercials and publicity appearances. The last woman to play the role was Ethel Harper. She would later look back on that job playing a “mammy” and call it degrading. Harper eventually settled down in Morristown, NJ and became involved in many community groups and taught black history in several schools.

So here we are in a new year and the announcement has been made of a new name for the iconic syrup brand. From now on it will be called not Aunt Jemima but Pearl Milling Company. That probably takes some explaining. You see The Pearl Milling Company was the business founded in 1888 by Chris L. Rutt that created the original pre-made pancake mix. It was Rutt who then came up with the Aunt Jemima name based on a song from a minstrel show that featured people in blackface wearing bandanas and aprons.

Pearl Milling Company.

Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, does it? Like it or not the new name launches June 1.

The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Jeff Deminski. Any opinions expressed are Jeff Deminski's own.

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