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Mon, 11.17.1834

Nancy Green, the original “Aunt Jemima”

Nancy Green in
Aunt Jemima Logo

*On this date we celebrate the birth of Nancy Green in 1834.  She was a Black storyteller and one of the first (Black) corporate models in the United States.  Nancy Green was born a slave in Montgomery County, Kentucky.

In 1890, she was hired by the R.T. Davis Milling Company who were looking to employ a Black woman as a Mammy archetype to promote their new product.  In 1893, she was introduced as Aunt Jemima at the World's Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in the guise of a plantation slave, where it was her job to operate a pancake-cooking display.  Her amiable personality and talent as a cook for the Walker family, whose children grew up to become Chicago Circuit Judge Charles M. Walker and Dr. Samuel Walker helped establish a successful showing of the product, for which she received a medal and certificate from the Expo officials.

After the Expo, Green was reportedly offered a lifetime contract to adopt the Aunt Jemima moniker and promote the pancake mix, however it is likely this was part of the lore created for the character rather than Green herself. This marked the beginning of a major promotional push by the company that included thousands of personal appearances and Aunt Jemima merchandising. Green was one of the organizers of the Olivet Baptist Church in Chicago. Her career allowed Green the financial freedom to become an activist and engage in antipoverty programs.

She also was one of the first Black missionary workers. She used her stature as a spokesperson to become a leading advocate against poverty and in favor of equal rights for individuals in Chicago.  Nancy Green maintained this job until a car crash in Chicago killed her on August 30, 1923.  She is bured in the city’s Oak Woods Cemetery.  The world knew her as "Aunt Jemima" but her given name was Nancy Green. The famous Aunt Jemima recipe was not her recipe, but she became the advertising world's first living trademark.

Reference:
Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia
Volumes 1 and 2, edited by Darlene Clark Hine
Copyright 1993, Carlson Publishing Inc., Brooklyn, New York
ISBN 0-926019-61-9

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