William Westhoven and William Westhoven
Morristown Daily RecordPublished 7:47 PM EDT Jun 17, 2020The parent company of Aunt Jemima syrup announced Wednesday  that it would change its name and the familiar brand image of a Black woman, an image criticized for years for perpetuating racial stereotypes.Quaker Oats attempted to soften the image over decades and more recently featured a composite drawing. The company acknowledged Wednesday the Aunt Jemima character is “based on a racial stereotype” and that its work to update the character was “not enough.”The last real woman whose face appeared on the brand became a celebrated teacher of Black history through schools, the Girl Scouts and as a topical radio host in her adopted home town of Morristown, New Jersey.Ethel Ernestine Harper was born in 1903 in Alabama, where she grew up and earned a college degree at age 17, according to her obituary. She worked as a teacher and was president of the Birmingham City Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs before moving to New York to pursue a career in music.Broadway and Apollo Theater credits led to Harper winning an audition in 1950 to take over the role of Aunt Jemima in radio and TV commercials, wearing a red and white gingham kerchief on her head.Representing parent company Quaker Oats, Harper appeared as Aunt Jemima at schools, hospitals and public events.First Aunt Jemima, now Uncle Ben’s: Rice brand plans to ‘evolve’ and change ‘visual brand identity’Conagra Brands: Reviewing Mrs. Butterworth’s brand after Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben’s announcementsThe job lasted until 1958, after which the company created composite images to represent the character, leaving Harper as the final real person to play the role. Harper moved to Morristown, where she worked for and became the director of the Morris Area Girl Scout Council. She taught Black history in Morristown public and parochial schools.According to archived biographical information from the Morristown and Morris Township Library, Harper was the first teacher of Black history in Morris County.”Beginning in 1962, she began teaching Black history courses at area adult, parochial, and private schools; including Morristown Adult School, the Parsippany Adult School, the Assumption School in Morristown and Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison,” the biography says.Harper performed community outreach for senior housing in Morristown, at Wetmore Towers on Early Street, and organized a Meals on Wheels program.She hosted an issues-oriented radio program, “Youth Speaks Out; Age Speaks Out; Are You Listening?” that aired Saturdays on Morristown radio station WMTR.Harper died in 1979. Police said she had a heart attack while driving on South Street in Morristown, according to a Daily Record story. She was found slumped behind the wheel after apparently pulling her car over to the side of the road, police said.Panda Express: Restaurant launches delivery service as it cuts the Uber Eats, Postmastes middlemanViral video: Officer’s lost McMuffin order goes viral with insinuations employees would tamper with her foodHarper did not speak about her role in a Daily Record interview in 1974 but did reflect on her long and varied career.”You can no more teach what you haven’t learned than you can come back from where you haven’t been,” she said.After the Aunt Jemima announcement Wednesday, the company that owns the Uncle Ben’s rice brand announced it would retire the image for similar reasons.Follow William Westhoven on Twitter: @wwesthoven.


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