Statutes of limitation and the pancake box

The R.T. Davis Milling Co.’s Aunt Jemima brand of self-rising pancake mix was a big hit at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, thanks in part to the efforts of Nancy Green, the first of a series of women hired (after auditions) to promote the established brand, which had been named after a vaudeville tune of the day. (It is now owned by Pepsico’s Quaker Oats subsidiary.) Green’s popularity in the role won her a lifetime contract with the company which ended with her death in 1923, but now, reports the Louisville Courier-Journal]:

a lawsuit claims that Green’s heirs as well as the descendants of other black women who appeared as Aunt Jemima deserve $2 billion and a share of future revenue from sales of the popular brand.

If courts are to take statutes of limitation seriously, it is hard to see why such a suit does not deserve sanctions. If on the other hand courts are to begin ignoring statutes of limitation, Quaker might want to check into the packaging on its round box of breakfast oats, lest the heirs of William Penn (1644-1718) get any ideas. (& Debbi Baker, San Diego Union-Tribune; Amy Alkon, Advice Goddess)


  • Besides the descendants bringing the lawsuit, the only other person quoted in the article is this “expert”:

    And Diane Roberts, a professor of Southern culture at Florida State University and author of “The Myth of Aunt Jemima,” said that “Mammy” stereotype “romanticized the cruelty of slavery for a nation reconciling the trauma of the Civil War.”

    One of the descendants actually states that he will use the money to help out oppressed peoples in Africa and South America. Puleeze.
    This suit is a shake down of Quaker Oats.

  • Plaintiffs can’t find a copy of the contract. But, don’t worry. They have contacted Dan Rather, and his Creator of Questioned Documents. As soon as the type face, fonts and proportional spacing are selected, Dan will do a story about his ferreting out the facts.

  • I can’t think of any good reason why this case needed to wait this long. The case isn’t even being brought by her children; it’s being brought by her great-grandchildren. And how is the company even supposed to find those contracts, after all this time?

    I agree. This deserves sanctions. Let’s see, if the lawyer was to get 25%, and we sanction him for just 1% of what he was standing to gain from the suit, that’s $5 million. That’s about the lowest I’m willing to go for sanctions for a frivolous multi-billion dollar lawsuit. People and their attorneys need to learn that the court system is not a lottery.

  • While I agree that this suit is being filed way too late and that there appears to be little evidence for the claims, the post is misleading in one respect: the claim of the lawsuit is not simply that the Aunt Jemima models were not paid what they were entitled to for modelling. Rather, the claim is that one particular model actually developed the pancake recipe.

  • “Rather, the claim is that one particular model actually developed the pancake recipe.”

    Even assuming the suit was timely, given the law as it was at the time, she would still probably be out of luck if she shared her recipe with the company without a contract already in place covering the recipe.

  • This smells to high heaven of the slavery reparations crowd.