Well, I just learned something I didn’t know about the Whitman’s company. One of its most popular items in the first half of the 20th Century was called “Pickaninny Peppermints.” Yes... with Negro faces on the box and everything.
Guess who led the fight in the early 1940s to get Whitman’s Candies to drop that “Pickaninny” shit? A young NAACP lawyer named Thurgood Marshall... future Supreme Court Justice of the United States.
Juan Williams tells the story in his 1998 book “Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary.” And here it is:
JUAN WILLIAMS: Marshall... was not comfortable with the sensationalism often used by reporters, and he initially resisted being drawn away from legal issues and into highly publicized crusades.
For example, [NAACP leader Walter] White started a media campaign against the continued use of crude, racist stereotypes in popular culture. In magazines, in advertisements, and on the radio, black Americans were commonly referred to as “darkies” and “shines.”
White had recently sought to get a shrimp company to change the name of one of its brands, Nigger Head Shrimp.
Marshall thought White needed a public relations agent, not a lawyer, for these cultural wars. But as he became closer to White, Marshall saw the potential of such protests.
He began by publicizing a letter he wrote challenging the Whitman candy company for selling Pickaninny Peppermints. Whitman’s production manager wrote back that the word was not a slur but meant a “cute colored kid.” Marshall exchanged letters with Whitman’s executives for more than four years.
He got Carl Murphy and the Afro-American involved. The paper ran a front-page story headlined: “If You Want to Be Called a Name, Buy Whitman’s.”
Marshall complained to the candy company that Pickaninny was as bad an epithet as “Sheeny, Dago, Kike and Wop.” Whitman’s eventually relented.