East Texas Legends For Black History Month: Lillian Richard
The recent controversy over the Quaker Oats companies choice to remove the image of Aunt Jemina from its products and to change of the name of its brand, was a decision met with mixed results, including here in East Texas.
After over 100 years, Aunt Jemina's image will no longer be seen on its packaging, but one of the women who played Aunt Jemina and put an East Texas town on the map is still to this day considered an East Texas legend.
The story of Lillian Richard is a story we must remember despite your feelings about the "brand" itself because it contains important context we must examine.
Just a year before she was born in the Fouke community near Hawkins, Texas in 1891, in 1890, the image of Aunt Jemima was registered as a trademark in April of that year and later that year the rights to Aunt Jemima were sold to the R. T. Davis Milling Company. The R.T. Davis Milling Company hired actors to represent several of their products at local fairs and parades. The first woman to play Aunt Jemima was an unidentified actress in St. Joseph in 1891. Over the ensuing years until the 1960s dozens of women were hired to play the role of Aunt Jemima, many of whom were featured in advertising campaigns that were based on the fictitious story of Aunt Jemima.
Lillian Richard was one of 11 children and in 1910, she moved to Dallas initially working as a cook but in 1925 she received the opportunity of a lifetime for someone from her humble beginnings when The Quaker Oats Company offered Richard the opportunity to portray the Aunt Jemima character, demonstrating pancakes and other products. Her job "pitching pancakes" was based out of Paris, Texas and for over 23 years, before suffering a stroke in 1948.
Richard returned to her birthplace and family members took care of her until her passing in 1956. In 1995, 38 years after her death, Richard was honored for her career and the town of Hawkins was recognized by the Texas Legislature in Senate Resolution No. 73, designating Hawkins as the "Pancake Capital of Texas."
While you may disagree with the "image" or the "character", Lillian Richard deserves to be remembered because she helped put a small East Texas town on the map and folks from all over the country still visit the historical marker erected in her honor at the Fouke Community Center, located at 5429 FM 2869, east of Mineola.
Lillian Richard is an East Texas Legend.