Friday, May 2, 2014

Ohio's Aunt Jemima

Rosa Washington Riles 1901 - 1969
File under: "Cool stuff you learn while geocaching"

I almost didn't stop at this old cemetery on my April 19th, 2014 trek through Ohio's abolition country. I was headed from Ripley toward the boyhood home of US Grant in Georgetown. But it's so hard to resist the lure of geocaches in old cemeteries as I nearly always find something interesting. This was no exception.

At first, I thought this was an impostor buried along U.S. 68/62. Maybe someone who had the head bandanna look down pat, cooked a mean stack of flapjacks, and got a cool nickname out of it. I even called my wife and she confirmed via Google that the original Aunt Jemima was Nancy Green, a former slave born in KY who died in 1923. Oh well. I kind of forgot about all this until I went through my photos from that day and decided to Google the name on the gravestone.

I learned there were multiple Aunt Jemimas through the years and Rosa Washington Riles was one of them. Born (and buried) in Red Oak OH, Rosa was recruited by Quaker Oats in the 1950s and traveled around the country making public appearances portraying Aunt Jemima. Every year a pancake breakfast is even held at the early 19th century Presbyterian church on the same property. The proceeds are used for the upkeep of the old part of the cemetery next to the church where several Revolutionary War veterans are buried.
AJ: Buckeye version

She isn't officially acknowledged as one of the Aunt Jemimas by Quaker Oats I suppose because by the 1950s multiple people were portraying her, but this article on Jim Crow Propaganda (warning: old-timey racist imagery ahead) has a copy of a 2001 article in the comments section with some more information on Ohio's very own Aunt Jemima. Also, check out this article on the history of the old church and cemetery and its role in abolition and the Underground Railroad.

Geocaching and history, my chocolate and peanut butter as I always say! In this case, my pancakes and syrup.