The recent sale of Alex Haley’s papers included the typescript of The Autobiography of Malcolm X , which commanded the highest price ever paid for a manuscript by an African-American writer. The text included a chapter titled “The Negro,” which was mysteriously omitted from the published text. Here, as reported in The New York Observer of April 19, 1993, is what Malcolm X thought of the power of the ubiquitous icon:
“Instead of so much effort to escape being black, so much trying to be like the white man, he [the black man] might have the sense to wake up from his sleep and put to use for himself the image that the white man won’t let him escape. Take the fact, consider the fact that three centuries of white people have loved black cooking so much that hardly any image is planted deeper in the American mind. Aunt Jemima, beaming and black—used by the white man—has sold billions of pancakes. Her counterpart Uncle Ben has sold shiploads of rice—for the white man. Where is the black money pooled into an industry hiring blacks in the total processing of frozen black Southern cooking that could share in the frozen food millions?
“Where is this nation’s black-owned chains of black-cooking restaurants? In the fall of 1963, Aunt Jemima moved from boxed pancake flour to a nation-spanning restaurant franchise. Among the features are 37 different kinds of pancakes and fried chicken that, according to the full-page ad’s copywriter, ‘reduces a southern senator to tears.’
“Guess who franchises the chain of Aunt Jemima restaurants?”