A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeyes fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from December 08, 2006
Pancake Capital of Texas (Hawkins nickname)

Hawkins is the “Pancake Capital of Texas” because resident Lillian Richard portrayed “Aunt Jemima” for Quaker Oats from 1911-1947. Hawkins isn’t known for producing great pancakes, and Aunt Jemima isn’t a popular or contemporary figure. Nevertheless, the designation passed the Texas legislature in 1995. Hawkins has to be known for something!
Chamber of Commerce (Hawkins, TX)

The Hawkins area was awarded after the Texas Revolution to George Brewer. Many families bought land from the Brewer family and moved into the area. This area was the main thoroughfare leading to Belzora Crossing on the Sabine River. Many immigrants migrated to this area over that crossing.

The railroad purchased land from the early settlers. Prior to the year 1873, construction crews were building road beds, clearing trees and building bridges. It is said while building the roadway clearing area, close to what is now Hawkins, a Mr. Hawkins carved his initials on one of the trees. In 1873 a group of about 250 people applied to Washington for a post office, they looked to the name on the tree for the designation: hence the name, Hawkins, Texas.

The community prospered through the development of cotton ginning. On October 8, 1916 a tragic fire completely destroyed the business district. The town was rebuilt and its principle business was farming, lumbering, and ginning. On December 5, 1940 Frank Morrison and Bobby Manziel discovered oil on the Morrison land. Hawkins took its place in history as an important cog in the wheel of the giant oil industry. Hawkins was incorporated in April 1941 and has been growing since.

Humble Oil, now know as Exxon, built a large oil and gas refinery in the late 1940’s and had been an important factor in the growth of Hawkins. Since that time many business have been established here to form the base for a well rounded community. Hawkins features one of the best independent school systems in the State and Jarvis Christian College is now considered to be one of the best small colleges in the nation.

The State of Texas recognizes Hawkins as the Pancake Capital of Texas. Resident Lillian Richard, portrayed “Aunt Jemima” for 37 years for the Quaker Oats Company. 

Official Capital Dsignations - Texas State Library
Pancake Capital of Texas
Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 73, 74th Legislature, Regular Session (1995)

Houston Chronicle
Painful American Icon
Homage to Aunt Jemima remains a tricky business
The women who portrayed Aunt Jemima were part of a tradition that dated to 1893, when a former slave named Nancy Green greeted visitors to the World’s Fair in Chicago. Green cooked, sang songs and told tales of the Old South, while reportedly serving more than a million pancakes and helping generate more than 50,000 orders for the mix. That was followed by tours across the United States and Canada until her death in 1923.

Quaker Oats acquired the Aunt Jemima trademark in 1926 and revived the portrayers in the 1930s. Most of the subsequent Aunt Jemimas played to more limited audiences, however, working in assigned geographic regions. A few did appear in radio and print ad campaigns and some got their pictures on the box.

Company spokesman Ron Bottrell says marketing surveys show the Aunt Jemima trademark—since 1968 a drawing not based on a real person—is considered by the vast majority of Americans to be a positive image. He notes that sales of the product are higher among blacks than among the population as a whole.

Even Kern-Foxworth, who teaches journalism at Texas A&M University, admits the marketing campaign was brilliant. But, she argues, the Aunt Jemima image has proven limiting for many blacks.

First, she notes, the two entrepreneurs who perfected the recipe in 1889 got the idea for the Aunt Jemima character from a blackface minstrel act in St. Joseph, Mo.

Then, there is the campaign’s clear connection to slavery.

The character’s legend holds that Aunt Jemima had been a slave on a fictional Col. Higbee’s plantation. A typical magazine ad from the turn of the century shows a heavyset black cook talking happily while a white man takes notes.

“After the Civil War, after her master’s death,” the ad copy says, “Aunt Jemima was finally persuaded to sell her famous pancake recipe to the representative of a northern milling company.”
Hearne isn’t the only town in Texas to boast an Aunt Jemima. Nor was it the only one to encounter the uneasiness the image can arouse.

Jewel R. McCalla, an 80-year-old retired schoolteacher, recalls that her aunt, Lillian Richard, played the role from 1911 to 1947. Richard left Hawkins for Dallas, McCalla says, then got a job based in Paris, Texas, pitching pancakes.

“She was acting, singing, telling them how good it was,” says McCalla, who saw her aunt give a cooking demonstration once in Mineola. “She carried a lot of friends. I guess that’s what got her into the pancake business.”

McCalla helped revive interest in Richard with a newspaper interview in 1994.

Soon Hawkins, too, was trying to lure tourists to an Aunt Jemima gravesite. The local chamber of commerce convinced David Cain of Dallas, the state senator who represents the area, to push a resolution through the 1995 Legislature declaring Hawkins, “The Pancake Capital of Texas.”

Richard was honored with a parade shortly thereafter, and her story is now included on page 13 of the local business directory. McCalla says she is unaware of the town encountering any criticism.

“The role of Aunt Jemima was a very powerful one,” she says, “and one we all should remember with love and respect.”

But read Cain’s resolution carefully. A routine item passed without debate during last year’s legislative session, it notes that Richard worked 37 years “to promote the pancake industry for the Quaker Oats Company.” It also bragged on the woman “who created such an endearing and enduring image.”

It never mentions “Aunt Jemima"directly.

That was no oversight, according to Cain’s chief of staff.

“Yes, it was by design,” says Tim Reeves, who prepared the paperwork for the resolution based on information provided by the Hawkins chamber. The matter gave him pause at the time, he says, because “Aunt Jemima has been used in some derogatory ways. I mean, I’m aware of it.”

So before drafting the resolution, Reeves asked some African-American friends for their opinions. In the end, he says, the staff decided to avoid mentioning Aunt Jemima by name “purely out of caution.”

“We felt like it might be offensive to some people.”

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • Friday, December 08, 2006 • Permalink

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