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Caricatures of African Americans: Mammy
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The Mammy Caricature
Notepad Holder
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Mammy is the most well known racial caricature of African American women. She was created during the era of American slavery as manufactured evidence that black slave women were content and even happy to be slaves, and thus, that slavery was a humane institution. Although she had children, sometimes many, she was completely desexualized. She "belonged" to the white family, though it was rarely stated, and she was a faithful worker. She had no black friends; the white family was her entire world. Mammy was obese, old, very dark-skinned, and she always wore a bandana. These physical traits were intended to protect the myth that White men did not find Black women attractive, and that there was no sexual contact between them within the intimate confines of the antebellum plantation. This was a lie, perhaps the biggest told about the slave-master relationship. The primary sources on American slavery make it all too clear that sexual exploitation of Black women by their White masters was pervasive. Whether it be the autobiography of Fredrick Douglass, whose
father was a White man, Harriet Jacobs’ stirring account of her master’s relentless sexual pursuit of her that forced her to choose living in the attic of a shed for 7 years over submission, or the stories collected in the 1930s by the Federal Writers Project, or the late 20th century revelations about Thomas Jefferson’s liaisons with Sally Hemmings, the evidence of sexual exploitation is omnipresent. Even without those sources, one need only note the generally lighter skin tone of the Black American when compared with his African counterpart to understand the extent of the genetic commingling. This aspect of the mammy caricature alone—providing cover for White brutality—is argument enough that Mammy cannot be seen as a “positive” stereotype.
Mamy & Tom Salt & Pepper Shakers
Mammy & Tom Salt & Pepper Shakers
Commercial Mammies
Mammy did not fade away with the abolition of slavery and the end of the Civil War. In fact, she grew in stature during the Jim Crow era. As America turned its attention from making war to making money, a new era of manufacturing ensued, promoted by a fledgling advertising industry. Advertisers realized that Mammy had commercial value. Since the stereotype included some “positive” qualities involving her faithful devotion to the White family as domestic servant, Mammy allowed Whites to feel good about themselves while at the same time served as a authority on cooking and cleaning. Thus, Mammy became the perfect pitchwoman to sell numerous household products, but especially breakfast foods, detergents,
Luzianne Coffee
Luzianne Coffee
Lux Soap ad
Lux Soap ad
Aunty Brand Citrus Label
Aunty Brand Citrus Label
Dixon's Stove Polish ad
Dixon's Stove Polish ad
Mammy Brand Citrus Label
Mammy Brand Citrus Label
and other household cooking and cleaning items. The Mammy caricature thus became mainstreamed.

As early as 1875, Aunt Sally, a Mammy image, appeared on cans of baking powder. Later, different Mammy images appeared on Luzianne coffee and cleaners, Fun to Wash detergent, Aunt Dinah molasses, and other products.

Aunt Jemima
By far, the most successful commercial mammy in history is Aunt Jemima, created in 1889 by Charles Rutt, a Missouri newspaper editor, and Charles G. Underwood, a
mill owner, as a promotion for their new self-rising flour that only needed water. They then sold the pancake recipe and the accompanying Aunt Jemima marketing idea to the R.T. Davis Mill Company, which improved the pancake formula and developed an advertising plan to use a real person to portray Aunt Jemima. The woman they found to serve as the live model was Nancy Green, who was born a slave in Kentucky in 1834. She impersonated Aunt Jemima until her death in 1923. Aunt Jemima was not an instant hit. With little profit to show for their efforts, R.T. Davis Company decided to put everything into a promotional exhibition at the 1893 World's Exposition in Chicago. They constructed the world's largest flour barrel, 24
Aunt Jemima at 1893 Expo, as printed in "The Life of Aunt Jemima" (1895)
Aunt Jemima at 1893 Expo, as printed in "The Life of Aunt Jemima" (1895)
"The Life of Aunt Jemima" 1895 advertising booklet
"The Life of Aunt Jemima" 1895 advertising booklet (2 views)
Aunt Jemima at 1893 Expo, as depicted in the March 1921 edition of Ladies Home Journal
Aunt Jemima at 1893 Expo, as depicted in the March 1921 edition of Ladies Home Journal
Ad: "I'se in Town, Honey"
Ad: "I'se in Town, Honey"
Ad: "I'se in Town Honey!"
Ad: "I'se in Town Honey!"
Aunt Jemima Victorian Trade Card
Aunt Jemima Victorian Trade Card
feet high and 12 feet across, to grab people’s attention. Then they put Nancy Green on display and gave her an act. She dressed as Aunt Jemima, sang songs, cooked pancakes, and told romanticized stories about the Old South (a happy place for blacks and whites, alike, now accessible only by nostalgia, or by buying Aunt Jemima’s pancake recipe). Green was a huge success. By the end of the Exposition she had served tens of thousands of pancakes and had become a national celebrity. Green then went on tour, her arrival heralded by large billboards featuring her image and the caption, "I'se in town, honey." Green, as Aunt Jemima, appeared at countless country fairs, flea markets, food shows, and local grocery stores. By the turn of the century, Aunt Jemima and the Armour meat chef were the two commercial symbols most trusted by American
housewives. By 1910 more than 120 million Aunt Jemima breakfasts were being served annually, roughly equal to the population of the country. The popularity of Aunt Jemima inspired many promotional giveaway and mail-in premiums, including dolls, breakfast club pins, dishware, and recipe booklets, that remain very collectible today. The R.T. Davis Mill Company was renamed the Aunt Jemima Mills Company in 1914, and eventually sold to the Quaker Oats Company in 1926.
Advertising: Aunt Jemima appearing at a congregational church
Advertising: Aunt Jemima appearing at a congregational church
Aunt Jemima Breakfast Club Button
Aunt Jemima Breakfast Club Button
Wooden Basket
Wooden Basket (2 views)
Aunt Jemima ad, 1927
Aunt Jemima ad, 1927
Aunt Jemima ad, 1939
Aunt Jemima ad, 1939
Aunt Jemima ad, 1943
Aunt Jemima ad, 1943
Aunt Jemima ad, 1943
Aunt Jemima ad, 1943
Aunt Jemima ad, 1951
Aunt Jemima ad, 1951
Anna Robinson as Aunt Jemima
Anna Robinson as Aunt Jemima
Aunt Jemima Radio Show
sound Aunt Jemima Radio Show
Aunt Jemima after 1989 makeover
Aunt Jemima after 1989 makeover
Unfortunately, no photograph of Nancy Green is known to exist. Other actresses who portrayed Aunt Jemima include Anna Robinson, who weighed 350 pounds and was much darker in complexion than was Nancy Green, and Edith Wilson, known primarily for playing on radio and television shows between 1948 and 1966. By the 1960s the Quaker Oats Company was the market leader in the frozen food business, and Aunt Jemima was an American icon. However, as the American society changed during and after the Civil Rights movement, criticism of Aunt Jemima
increased. In 1989, to “celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the icon”, Aunt Jemima was given a makeover. Her bandana was removed, she was significantly slimmed down, and the stereotypical dialect in which she spoke in print, radio, and TV ads was abandoned. About 40 Aunt Jemima products are currently being marketed. What accounts for the amazing success of Aunt Jemima? One historian has suggested that Aunt Jemima's ready-mixed products offered middle-class housewives the next best thing to a black servant: a "slave in a box.”
Modern products
Modern products (2 views)
 
The Mammy Caricature in Film
In the Jim Crow era, the Mammy caricature was also perpetuated in film. Mammy appeared first as a character in the unique genre of entertainment known as the minstrel show—a stage play with Black characters featuring skits, songs, and general buffoonery put on for the benefit and amusement of a White audience. Amazingly, many of these characters were portrayed by white actors in “blackface,” a makeup made from burnt cork. In the minstrel show, Mammy was often a grumpy old hag, whose main purpose was to be a foil for the shenanigans of her Black male partner, who was usually the Coon caricature. When the motion picture industry began to develop in the early 20th century, Mammy quickly made the transition to film. The development of the film industry coincided with the rehabilitation of the Old South myth (described above), and the popularity of movies thus brought Black caricatures into the lives of nearly all
Hattie McDaniel
Hattie McDaniel
Americans,including the millions of immigrants recently arrived from Eastern and Southern Europe. Dozens of early films were set in the Old South and were replete with Mammies.
Louise Beavers
Louise Beavers in Imitation of Life (1934)
Two types of mammies developed. Films set in the old South portrayed mammy as the faithful slave. Films set in post-emancipation America depicted mammy as the domestic servant, still doing the same jobs for Whites as her enslaved counterparts. The two black actresses who played most of these roles were Louise Beavers and Hattie McDaniel. Beavers even put on weight and feigned a Southern accent in order to get the parts, because they were the only ones available. Her most memorable role was in Imitation of Life, in which she played the mother of a light-skinned woman who tried to pass for White. Delilah, the Beavers character, also happily accepts her perpetual servitude. At one point she even reveals her secret pancake recipe to her White employer, who uses it to start a successful business. She goes about her life unconcerned about financial success, even as her stereotyped face, emblazoned on the pancake product, becomes a national icon.
Hattie McDaniel was the most well known of the film mammies. She played the caricature in more than half a dozen films before playing Scarlet O'Hara's sassy but loyal servant in Gone With the Wind in 1939. McDaniel won an Oscar for best supporting actress, the first Black to win an Academy Award. Hattie McDaniel was a gifted actress who added depth to the character of mammy. But McDaniel’s story highlights the difficulties Black Americans faced as a consequence of the mainstreaming of Mammy. McDaniel became typecast. If she was in a film that was set in the present, well after slavery, she was a maid—still the domestic servant. Unfortunately, almost all blacks from the 1920s through 1950s were typecast as servants in real life. The mammy caricature implied that black women were only fit to be domestic workers;
Hattie McDaniel as Mammy in Gone With the Wind (1939)
Hattie McDaniel as Mammy in Gone With the Wind (1939)
Servicing the White family
Servicing the White family
Louise Beavers as Beulah
Louise Beavers as Beulah
thus, the stereotype became a rationalization for several generations of economic discrimination. Black women were free only in a sense. They were typecast in real life into providing domestic services for affluent White families. When McDaniel was criticized by Blacks for perpetuating the mammy caricature, she responded, "Why should I complain about making seven thousand dollars a week playing a maid? If I didn't, I'd be making seven dollars a week actually being one."

The Mammy caricature as a type seemed dated by the 1950s, and she slowly faded away in the movies. Perhaps her last big hoorah was the 1950s television show Beulah (beginning first as a radio show in 1947). Beulah is notable as the first show, radio or television, to feature a Black
woman as the main character. She was a maid, "queen of the kitchen," who worked for a White suburban family, and much of the humor involved her ability to solve problems her White "family" couldn't figure out. The show went through many cast changes and survived only 3 years. By the 1960s, as the Civil Rights movement picked up pace and other social changes were underway, new images of mammy mostly disappeared, with a few Southern states continuing to market mammy souvenirs for White tourists from the North. But she remained a comforting figure of nostalgia for Whites. Mammy became a collectible, and even some African Americans assembled collections of mammy dolls and household items, having adopted the notion that mammy is a strong, "positive" caricature, or that items depicting her are "cute." The success of the 2009 novel, The Help, by Kathryn Stockett (and the 2011 film version) has potentially
Mammy Bell, Florida Souvenir
Mammy Servant Bell, Florida Souvenir (3 views)
Maids line up for service in The Help (2011)
Maids line up for service in The Help (2011)
reminded a whole new generation of the long-term consequences of stereotyping and discrimination. Set in 1960s Mississippi, the story focuses on the lives of three African American maids working in White homes. In the 1960s, a hundred years after emancipation, such jobs were still virtually the only employment opportunities for Black women.
 
More Images of Mammy
c.1890s Engraving
1890s Engraving showing an angry mammy chastising a thieving black pickaninny, much to the amusement of the White mistress
1900s card
1900s card depicting a "not particular" White man kissing an mammy, despite her "strong stench" (a rare depiction)
c.1900s Victorian trade card
c.1900s Victorian trade card for The Haas Hog and Poultry Remedy: "Done Gone and Busted De Box"
1909 Postcard: "Have You Seen My Henry Brown?"
1909 Postcard: "Have You Seen My Henry Brown?"
The Game of Hitch Hiker, c.1930s
The Game of Hitch Hiker, c.1930s
General Electric Ad: I'se Sure Got a God Job Now!
General Electric Ad: I'se Sure Got a God Job Now!
Fun To Wash Detergent
Fun To Wash Detergent
Lindy Lou Southern Style Dark Bread
Lindy Lou Southern Style Dark Bread
Longwood Plantation's Syrup
Longwood Plantation's Syrup
Trade Card: Sierra Specialty Supply Company
Trade Card: Sierra Specialty Supply Company
Key Holder
Key Holder
Quaker State Motor Oil Sign, c.1930s
Quaker State Motor Oil Sign, c.1930s
Mammy & Tom Salt & Pepper Shakers
Mammy & Tom Salt & Pepper Shakers
Mammy & Tom Salt & Pepper Shakers
Mammy & Tom Salt & Pepper Shakers
Grocery List: "Reckon Ah Needs?"
Grocery List: "Reckon Ah Needs?"
Butter Dish
Butter Dish (2 views)
Cast Iron Figure
Cast Iron Figure (2 views)
Chalk Homemade Wall Hanging
Chalk Homemade Wall Hanging (3 views)
Mammy Doll
Mammy Doll (2 views)
Mammy Doll
Mammy Doll (2 views)
Mammy Doll
Mammy Doll (2 views)
Cookie Jar
Cookie Jar
Sugar Shaker
Sugar Shaker
Head Vase
Head Vase
Old Maid Card Game
Old Maid Card Game (2 views)
Postcard: A Change is Good For Everybody
Postcard: A Change is Good For Everybody
Postcard: I Hope You're Thinking About Me
Postcard: I Hope You're Thinking About Me
Postcard: It's Amen, not Yeah Man!
Postcard: It's Amen, not Yeah Man!
Postcard: But Yo' Dun Tol' Me to Serve Th' Salad With Out Dressin'!
Postcard: But Yo' Dun Tol' Me to Serve Th' Salad With Out Dressin'!
Topsy's Restaurant Menu
Topsy's Restaurant Menu
Cream & Sugar Dispensers
Cream & Sugar Dispensers
Bell
Servant Bell
Wooden Figure with Jump Rope
Wooden Figure with Jump Rope
Salt & Pepper Shaker Souvenirs, New Orleans
Salt & Pepper Shaker Souvenirs, New Orleans
Washer Woman Figure
Washer Woman Figure (2 views)
Coastal Carolina Cooking book, 1963
Coastal Carolina Cooking book, 1963
Halloween Mask
Halloween Mask
"If I Can't Sing About My Mammy (I Don't Want to Sing at All)" by George Winton Ballard (1924)
sound "If I Can't Sing About My Mammy (I Don't Want to Sing at All)" by George Winton Ballard (1924)
Mammy Doorstop
Mammy Doorstop (2 views)
Inside Quality brand fruit crate label, c.1930s
Inside Quality brand fruit crate label, c.1930s
Oven Mitt, New Orlean, Louisiana Souvenir
Oven Mitt, New Orleans, Louisiana Souvenir
Postcard: "Could I Interest You in a Pair of White Kids?"
Postcard: "Could I Interest You in a Pair of White Kids?"
     
Jynx Figurine with Black Face
Jynx Figurine with Black Face
Jynx Card with purple face
Jynx Card with purple face (2 versions)
Imported Mammies?
In recent years, American pop culture has embraced a significant amount of imagery from Japan, mostly in the form of manga comic books, animae television and film, and various card games. Interestingly, a few of these contain Black characters that are reminiscent of earlier 20th century imagery from American culture, which was likely exported to Japan before and after World War II. While these characters have morphed, they retain distinct minstrel-like characteristics, including bulging eyes and big ruby-red lips. One of these is the character of Jynx, from the Pokemon universe. Jynx first appeared in the video games Pokemon Red and Blue and subsequent sequels, published by Game Freak. Due to complaints, her black skin color was changed to purple.
To better understand the criticism of Jynx, view the comparison images to the right. In addition to the pitch black skin, bulging eyes, and ruby-red lips, Jynx is a very large female. If she were wearing a bandana, she would be indistinguishable from any of the mammy images.

The Yugioh card series also published an image reminiscent of mammy. In this case, her hair is in corn rows rather than covered with a bandana, and she has been given a more sinister demonic appearance in keeping with the Yugioh universe. Still, she is large, very dark-skinned, with distinctive minstrel-like eyes, teeth, and lips.
Jynx comparison
Jynx comparison
Yugioh Card
Yugioh Card
 
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Last modified November 25, 2012