Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Frank Brown (A.K.A. Uncle Ben???)

Did you know that Uncle Ben was a real person? We really don't care who is fact or fiction when we want some rice to go with those red beans or peas. We just want to eat, right? Well, Uncle Ben was a African American rice farmer from Texas who won many prizes for his methods and quality in growing rice. I know that most of us think of Asia when it comes to the cultivation and quality of rice, but there was a region in West Africa that Europeans called the "Rice Coast" near Sierra Leone. That area was a strategic focus during the slave trade in the late 1760's because rice was becoming a fast growing industry in America. Uncle Ben's ancestors were most likely victims of the rice boom. Anyway, Uncle Ben's reputation grew and his rice soon became the standard in which all rice would be measured.
How di
d his face get on the box? Did he start his own company? Well, no. That's not even his face on the box. The face on the box was a man from Chicago named Frank Brown. Frank Brown was a maitre d' at a Chicago restaurant that Gordon L. Harwell frequented in the 1940's. Harwell would later go on to start the Uncle Ben's Converted Rice Company. Anyway, Harwell wanted a face that would sell rice. Black characters were very popular on food products at the turn of the 20th Century because it gave the consumer the illusion that it was straight from "Uncle" and "Aunties" kitchen (good ol' black southern cooking). So, the next time you have yourself a bowl of Uncle Ben's rice just think about that little rice farmer from around Houston that some folks called "Uncle Ben."

18 comments:

Michael J. West said...

Interesting! I'm glad to know this. What's interesting is that this Houston rice farmer sounds like he is on a parellel with, say, George Washington Carver. Why isn't he better known?

Bougie Black Boy said...

...and this is why i love coming here. Happy Blk History month... though every time I come to your site, I feel like celebrating all the time.

Stephen Bess said...

What's up Stephen. I appreciate that. Yeah, I have a love affair going on with the Black Diaspora. I often wonder if I should pursue a degree in it African American/African Lit/History. I wonder?

Mrs A. said...

hmmmm. i would say yes u should, (if even in your mind) because even though my history degree and concentration centers on the aforementioned field, there is so much uncovered/unknown information out there and i didn't know that....i appreciate those who acquire and SHARE....you kinda have a degree in it...its just not "legit", but ur blog educates. one does gain once they view your page...i likes

Stephen Bess said...

Hello Miss A. Thanks for the advice. I should've taken that same advice in college from a professor that told me to do a double major in English and History. By the way, I check out your occupation...slavery. I laughed when I read it. :)

Ruben said...

Very good post. Honestly I never gave it any thought.

nikki said...

i'm always learning something after i stop by. thanks for the lesson, stephen.

African girl, American world said...

Thank you for my lesson today - much appreciated!

I have a new article up at my writing blog. Can you ask your wife to read it too and for her/your thoughts.

akiey said...

You just answered a question I was going to research on and "question-blog" about this weekend.
I feel enlightened already & will most definitely make that rice & kidney beans with lots of pride.

This is a fitting tribute to both rice entreprenuer & the expert chef!

Stephen Bess said...

Ruben- Sometimes I think too much.

Nikki- It's my pleasure.

Mwabi- Long time! I will read your article and send the link to my wife. I'm glad that you got something out of this post.

Akiey- Thanks for stopping in. I'm glad that you were able to get something from this post. I enjoy research and I simply love history.

Torrance Stephens bka All-Mi-T said...

yea man, we loose track of history, all of its important. ive been to sl, during the war, and i had a ball

Stephen Bess said...

Torrance Stephens-
I agree that all of it is important. I've never had a chance to visit SL. I know that you have some stories.

NML said...

Great post. I always assumed it was just a made up character. Thanks for the insight.

tryphina said...

Marvellous Stephen, you are a great historian. I had no idea about Uncle Ben, and the marketing significance of prefixes Aunt/Uncle.

Keep up the good work bro

Stephen Bess said...

Moi??? A great historian? I hope to be. Thank you. :)

lyre said...

I am goign o read this post to my students monday on the closed circuit news as my black history fact! i will hold up a box of Uncle Ben's rice! Where did you get your info if you dont mind?

Stephen Bess said...

Good morning bdw. I was just sitting and wondering who was Uncle Ben?? Was he fictional or...what? So, I looked up the info and found numerous references to the real Uncle Ben on wikipedia and other sites. I think that would be great for kids to know.

Bygbaby said...

This is a good tidbit.

You know one funny thing about Europeans is that they are & were quick to say that we are/were uncivilized & had no skill but knew exactly how to profit on skills that we practiced in Africa throughout time.

As a side note, I have never had Uncle Ben's Rice.

Peace,
Bygbaby

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