Museum of America in the Pandemic Year, 2020

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Jun 17: Fulton County, Georgia, prosecutors charge former Atlanta police officer Garrett Rolfe with felony murder and 10 other offenses for the fatal shooting of Rayshard Brooks in a Wendy’s parking lot last weekend.  The number of Americans who have died of COVID-19 surpasses the number of U.S. service members killed in World War I (1917-1918). Polls show Biden widening his lead over Trump. Quaker Oats replaces the Aunt Jemima brand. Uncle Ben Rice and the Cream of Wheat mascot “Rastus” will also be rebranded.*

From the cutting room floor...

What’s amazing about this particular moment in history is the ease with which once fiercely defended ideals seem as if they’re being shoved aside. The “Lost Cause” myth is one of the most longstanding.

In 1866, a wealthy newspaper editor in Richmond, Virginia, Edward Pollard, published The Lost Cause to explain that, while the South had been militarily defeated, the Confederacy was still culturally a separate county from the North. The cause of the Confederate states had been noble and just. The Civil War had really been precipitated by Northern jealousy at Southern refinement, gentility, educational achievement, and financial stability, which was translated into political power in Congress. The war was not over slavery at all, Pollard argued. One couldn’t call the labor system in the South “slavery” since it “elevated the African and was in the interest of human improvement.” Consequently, Southern life made the enslaved person “the most striking type in the world for cheerfulness and contentment.”[1] The Lost Cause narrative of the “happy slave” perpetuated a defense of slavery made by Southern physicians and politicians for decades before the War, and it became widely influential throughout the nation after it.

As the US became the world’s manufacturer of mass-produced goods in the late nineteenth century, that image infiltrated the branding of widely consumed products around the globe. Today, branding characters Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben, the Cream of Wheat man “Rastus,” and Mrs. Buttersworth, all perpetuations of that “happy slave” part of the Lost Cause, are slated to be rebranded or removed entirely. This follows the path of Mr. Peanut–molded in the image of an aristocratic Southern peanut planter–and the Land o’ Lakes Native American. It seems like that was years ago, though it was only April.[2] These products have been under attack as racist stereotypes for a long time.[3] Quaker Oats repeatedly attempted to “update” Aunt Jemima’s image to pull it away from its Lost Cause roots, most notably by replacing the handkerchief tied around the logo’s head with pearl earrings and a lace collar in 1989. But it was the acquisition of Quaker Oats by Pepsi Co. two decades ago that really began the process of decoupling Aunt Jemima from that Lost Cause narrative.[4]

Given Pepsi’s brand history, it is not surprising that they would make this move (though it took them long enough). PepsiCo has long marketed to the African American community and has historically been way out in front of Coca-Cola on race, though sometimes the company believed that stance cost them customers.[5] Interestingly, Pepsi was also the first western soda company to market to the Soviet Union in the 1980s. As a Southern woman who has spent a lifetime studying the Soviet Union, I have consumed a lot of Pepsi and Mountain Dew. This seems more substantial than corporate virtue signaling, which we’ve seen so much of over the last month. Gushers, the fruit snack, is maybe the worst. On June 5, they tweeted out a black square with the caption, “Gushers wouldn’t be Gushers without the Black Community and your voices… We see you. We Stand with you.” I’m not even sure what this means, honestly. Gushers are a patently unhealthy snack that is peddled to children. Are they saying that their business is supported by in large by the Black Community? I am sure they mean well, but this seems like treacherous water. In contrast, Pepsi’s CEO is both acknowledging the racist missteps in the company’s past and dedicating himself to increasing Pepsi’s African American workforce by 250, including 100 new executives.[6]


[1] Edward A. Pollard, The Lost Cause; A New Southern History of the War of the Confederates (New York: E. B. Treat and Company, 1866).

[2] Maria Cramer, “After Aunt Jemima, Reviews Underway for Uncle Ben, Mrs. Butterworth and Cream of Wheat,” The New York Times, June 17, 2020, sec. Business,

[3] Riché Richardson, “Can We Please, Finally, Get Rid of ‘Aunt Jemima’?,” The New York Times, June 24, 2015, sec. Opinion: Room for Debate,

[4] Jere Downs, “Pancake Flap: ‘Aunt Jemima’ Heirs Seek Dough,” USA TODAY, October 6, 2014,

[5] Grace Elizabeth Hale, “Opinion | When Jim Crow Drank Coke,” The New York Times, January 28, 2013,

[6] “PepsiCo’s Racial Equality Journey,” PepsiCo, Inc. Official Website, June 16, 2020,

Read more

PBS NewsHour. PBS NewsHour Full Episode, June 17, 2020, 2020.
CBS Los Angeles. Anti-Mask Protesters Disrupt Gathering Of Union, Faith, Business Leaders Calling For Reinstatement O, 2020.

“Hawkins community reacts to Aunt Jemima brand change,” CBS 19, June 17, 2020.

Trevor Noah, “So Much News, So Little Time: Aunt Jemima & New Trump Tell-Alls,” The Daily Social Distancing Show, June 17, 2020.


*If the pdf thumbnails are not appearing, please reload the page.

Boyd, Rhea W. The Injustice of Inequitable Disease: Addressing Racial Health Inequities Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic, § House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health (2020).
Impelli, Matthew. “Black Teen Found Dead, Hanging in Texas Not Victim of Foul Play, Police Say.” Newsweek, June 17, 2020.
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* Timeline summaries at the top of the page come from a variety of sources:, including The American Journal of Managed Care COVID-19 Timeline (, the Just Security Group at the NYU School of Law (, the “10 Things,” daily entries from The Week (, as well as a variety of newspapers and television programs.