Great-Grandchildren of ‘Aunt Jemima’ File $2 Billion Suit Against Quaker Oats

This isn’t quite as good as being named in a rich relative’s will but it might work out anyway. Anna Short Harrington was hired to portray Aunt Jemima after the brand’s acquisition by Quaker Oats in 1926. Her heirs never received any royalties from the earnings generated by her likeness and original recipes following her death in 1955. Harrington’s great-grandson, D.W. Hunter, filed a $2 billion class action suit — on behalf of all of Harrington’s heirs — against PepsiCo and its Quaker Oats subsidiary in an Illinois district court last week.

You can read more in an article by Geoff Weiss in the Entrepreneur web site at http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/236462.

12 Comments

From the article:
“It was only after receiving her death certificate, which listed Quaker Oats as Harrington’s employer, that Hunter determined that he and his fellow great-grandchildren were rightfully owed a portion of the billions that the company raked in, according to the suit.”

Maybe Mr. Hunter doesn’t realize that the death certificate informant can say anything about employment, place of birth, residency, etc. and it’s going to end up on the death certificate, what I consider to be the most unreliable primary source document available to genealogists. He still needs proof of employment and strong evidence that would overturn any contract.

Plus, I wonder why he would include a company that once tried to buy the company that licenses the Aunt Jemima brand. What responsibility do they have?

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I doubt she ever got any royalties. Probably a fat check for using her likeness, and she made money making appearances at fairs and store openings. Aunt Jemima has been around since 1889, Quaker Oats only used Harrington’s likeness from 1937 to 1968.

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Have you ever heard of the book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks? It’s about an African American woman whose cells were used to great effect and lots of profit by scientists and companies but her family never made money from it.

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    Hundreds of thousands of people, living and dead, have donated bio-matter for scientific experiments. Not for financial gain, but for the pure advancement of science, and the hope to cure disorders. I see no connection to Aunt Jemima.

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    This was a different situation. Henrietta had very very rare cancer cells and was used as a source of cells by scientists. Millions and millions of dollars were made from the cells only she could provide and her family was very poor and never got a dime from any of it, but they lost her to the disease. It was a very unusual circumstance.

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    At that time (1950s), permission was neither required nor customarily sought to harvest cells. Mrs. Lacks’ cells from a removed tumor were later commercialized. This issue and Mrs. Lacks’ situation was brought up in the Supreme Court of California case of Moore v. Regents of the University of California. On July 9, 1990, the court ruled that a person’s discarded tissue and cells are not their property and can be commercialized.

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    It’s a shame when people can’t just do the right thing without hiding behind laws and litigation. That’s what causes bitterness and anger.

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One wonders whether the motive is to correct an injustice or sheer avarice. Who knows?

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Employees of a company aren’t usually entitled to royalties as even a special job such as this is considered part of the salaried job and any additional monies should have been specified in a contract of some sort. I will admit that this is something of a special case, but back in the 40s and 50s there wasn’t much protection for this sort of thing, and continued use of the brand was perfectly legal. I think they are just fishing for a settlement, or hoping for a jury trial that will award on sympathy rather than legal rights. There are other tales of woe, including the guy who invented Jello.

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Let’s hope that descendants of Abraham Lincoln don’t come after the US Treasury for using his likeness on the penny.

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How about a multi-billion dollar lawsuit for appropriating the name “Quaker”? Actually, the company once defended the trademark against the Society of Friends (Quakers) who once petitioned congress, unsuccessfully, for a law barring trademarks with any religious connotations. Imagine how outrageous it would be considered today of a company were to introduce a line of cereal named ” ‘____[fill in the blank religious denomination]___’, the cereal with the ____[fill in the bland]____ man on the label”!

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