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"Rastus" has been used as a generic, often derogatory, name for black men at least since 1880, when Joel Chandler Harris included a black deacon named "Brer Rastus" in the first Uncle Remus book. However, Rastus (a shortening of Erastus, the Greek name of, especially, Erastus of Corinth) has never been particularly popular as a black name. For example, the 1870 census reported only 42 individuals named Rastus in the United States, of whom only four were Black or mulatto.
Rastus—as a stereotypically happy black man, not as a particular person—became a familiar character in minstrel shows. This is documented in Every Time I Turn Around: Rite, Reversal, and the End of Blackface Minstrelsy by Jim Comer, in fiction such as Adventures of Rufus Rastus Brown in Darktown (1906) and Rastus Comes to the Point: A Negro Farce, in popular songs such as Rastus, Take Me Back (1909) and (Rufus Rastus Johnson Brown) What You Going to Do When the Rent Comes 'Round (1905), on radio, and in films, most notably the Rastus series of short films, with titles that included How Rastus Got His Chicken and Rastus Runs Amuck.
Rastus is also the name of the African-American character that first appeared on packages of Cream of Wheat cereal in 1893 and whose image remained the Cream of Wheat trademark until the 1920s, when it was replaced by a photograph of Frank L. White, a Chicago chef in chef's hat and jacket. His face has been featured on the box with only slight modifications until the present day.