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Slave in A Box: The Strange Career of Aunt Jemima (The American South Series) Hardcover – March 1, 1998

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Product Details

  • Series: The American South Series
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: University of Virginia Press (March 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0813917824
  • ISBN-13: 978-0813917825
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,889,509 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The troubling figure of Aunt Jemima, the "simple, earnest smiling mammy" who currently adorns more than 40 food products manufactured by Quaker Oats, is now over 100 years old. With origins in the "mammies" of the antebellum South and in the minstrel shows (where she was played by white men in drag and blackface) and magazine ads of the early 1900s, Aunt Jemima has undergone various makeovers, independent scholar Manring notes. However, she landed her present incarnation as benevolent pancake maker through the attempts of ad men James Webb Young and N. C. Wyeth in the 1920s to capitalize on white nostalgia for the "leisure" of the plantation system. Geared for middle-class homemakers, Aunt Jemima's "ready-mixed" breakfast thus served as a "slave in a box," according to Manring. Though rid of her bandanna and toothy grin by the 1960s, Aunt Jemima remains a metaphor for whites' idealized relations between the races, with a nonthreatening, asexual elderly black woman happily serving the powers that be. A careful cultural study of this familiar image of Americana, Manring's analysis covers broad-ranging materials from popular fiction, folk songs, movies and ads, as well as historical events such as the 1893 World's Fair and Disney's theme park opening in 1955 of "Aunt Jemima's Pancake House." The book is less concerned with tracing a "strange career," however, than with the way marketing strategies can both mirror and create white fantasies. Aunt Jemima's static character only underscores the intractability of cultural change when moving product has the upper hand over social conscience.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.


In the white imagination few images are as recognizable as Aunt Jemima. As a negative stereotype reinforcing both racism and sexism, Aunt Jemima symbolically valued the humanity of black women. As M.M. Manring's thoughtful and well written account makes clear, the racist image of the black mammy has had a powerful impact upon American culture and society. Slave in a Box documents the continuing commodification of racial and gender inequality within white America.

(Manning Marable, Professor of History, and Director, Institute for Research in African-American Studies, Columbia University)

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By M. Brown on October 16, 2003
Format: Paperback
Slave in a Box is a great study of the racism and sexism embodied in the birth of advertising. It is not only provocative but also chock full of great facts about the era--from the importance of paper bags in marketing to the story of an African American who actually wrote for minstrel shows. I am writing because I am a historian and used the book in my Industrialization of America class. The class generally hated it, because it is so detailed, but despite their response I recommend using it in a course. Our discussion was painful--black students said the book was "depressing" and white students denied that race had anything to do with the power of this trade name (they harped on the convenience, as if the stereotype was irrelevant!). I learned so much about them and so much about what we all need to do as teachers that I think it was a very valuable experience.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Zarah Mayes-Horowitz on June 20, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Balanced treatment of highly sensitive issues centering around how and why America invented, promoted and continues to promulgate the demoralizing image of Aunt Jemima as the black female archetype.

Manring explores the process by which the mammy was popularized having been transplanted from the pantheon of the minstrel show circuit and strategically positioned into the larger society as an iconic figure in the minds of American whites; albeit, an egregious symbol in the minds of blacks. It's crucial to note that Aunt Jemima had her genesis as a white male in blackface and drag. In 1889, her likeness was crafted for marketing purposes, and the process of building a brand on servility and slavery had begun. Her handlers hired Nancy Green, a black woman who was actually born a slave in 1834, to play the part of Aunt Jemima. They paraded her about at state fairs aping and cooning, flipping pancakes, and speaking in mangled, plantation dialect much to the rip-roarious amusement of the white crowds. She was featured in such magazines as the Saturday Evening Post and Good Housekeeping as a mammy cooking pancakes for her white master, Colonel Higbee. Then came the mammy paraphernalia, i.e. the hideous mammy rag doll. Thus, the nation's most overtly racist trademark was constructed and delivered into the consciousness of America, complete with enormous girth, exaggerated and grotesque facial features; broad, cartoonish smile; obsequious expression; and that ignominious kerchief tied about her head.

In 1923, the United Daughters of the Confederacy campaigned to build a national mammy memorial in Washington, D.C. Fortunately, angry protests from blacks prevented this tragedy from ever being realized.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By D. Reece on September 1, 1998
Format: Paperback
This book and its contextualization of Aunt Jemima or the mammy stereotype, as I refer to it, is well-written and thought-provoking. The material has been very helpful to me in exploring how this particular stereotype of black women functions in American culture and I will be using it as a key reference in my dissertation. Thanks.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By earlybird on April 5, 2000
Format: Paperback
Very often, histories/studies of Aunt Jemima and the mammy stereotype are simply descriptive; this book does a great job of showing how Aunt Jemima's image and products were designed to complement/support ideal white femininity. My only criticism is that Aunt Jemima's presence on television and radio wasn't discussed enough. A great read for anyone interested in issues of race, gender and domesticity. I have recommended this book to many people, and continue to do so.
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