Women in History month is celebrated during the month of March so, we’re beginning our month-long tribute with this story. She’s known world-wide as Aunt Jemima the spokesperson for maple syrup but, how many of you know her real story. The following is according to Wikipedia, “Nancy Green, the Original Aunt Jemima” from aaregistry.org, “The Real Story behind Aunt Jemima and a Woman born Enslaved in Mt. Sterling, Kentucky” by – Alicestyne Turley, “Overlooked No More: Nancy Green, the Real Aunt Jemima” by – Sam Roberts and “Aunt Jemima of Pancake Fame is Killed by Auto” from Chicago Daily Tribune.

  Nancy Greene was an American former enslaved woman, nanny, cook and advocate and the first of many African American models and performers hired to promote a corporate trademark as Aunt Jemima. Nancy Hayes (or Hughes) was born enslaved on March 4, 1834; the Montgomery County Historical Society oral history places her birth at a farm on Somerset Creek, which is 6 miles outside of Mount Sterling in Monterey County, Kentucky. She had at least two and as many as four children, (one of whom was born in 1862), with George Green. Nancy had been variously described as a servant, nurse, nanny, housekeeper and cook for Charles Morehead Walker and his wife Amanda; she also served the family's next generation, again as a nanny and a cook.

  Nancy Green had already lost her husband and children by the end of the American Civil War, she lived in a wood frame shack (which was still standing as of 2014) behind a grand home on Main Street in Covington, KY. She moved with the Walkers from Kentucky to Chicago in the early 1870s, before the birth of Samuel Walker's youngest child in 1872 and on the recommendation of Judge Walker, Nancy was hired by the R.T. Davis Milling Company in St. Joseph, Missouri to represent “Aunt Jemima”, which was an advertising character named after a song from a minstrel show; they were looking for a “Mammy” archetype to promote their product.

  Nancy Green made her first debut as Aunt Jemima beside the world’s largest flour barrel at the 1893 World's Columbian Expedition, held in Chicago at the age of 59, where she operated a pancake-cooking display, sang songs and told romanticized stories about the old South. Miss Green was reportedly offered a lifetime contract to adopt the Aunt Jemima moniker and promote the pancake mix after the Expo, however, it is likely the offer 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. She appeared at fairs, festivals, flea markets, food shows and local grocery stores, and her arrival was heralded by large billboards featuring the caption. “I’s in town, Honey”.

  Despite having a lifetime contract, she only portrayed the role for no more than 20 years and refused to cross the ocean for the 1900 Paris exhibition, she was then replaced by Agnes Moodey “a negress of 60 years” who was then reported as the original Aunt Jemima. In 1910, Green was still working as a residential housekeeper, according to the census, at the age of 76 and few people were aware of her role as Aunt Jemima. Nancy lived with nieces and nephews in Chicago's Fuller Park and Grand Boulevard neighborhoods into her old age and at the time of her death, she was living with her great nephew and his wife.

  Nancy Green was active in the Chicago Olivet Baptist Church and during her lifetime it grew significantly; becoming the largest African American church in the United States with a membership at the time of over 9000 members. Nancy used her stature as a spokesperson to advocate against poverty and in favor of equal rights for individuals in Chicago.

  Sadly, Nancy Green died on August 30, 1923, at the age of 89 in Chicago when a car collided with a laundry truck and was hurled onto the sidewalk where she was standing. Nancy is buried in a pauper’s grave near a wall in the northeast quadrant of Chicago's Oak Wood Cemetery; her grave was unmarked and unknown until 2015, when Sherry Williams, who was the founder of the Bronzeville Historical Society spent 15 years uncovering Miss Green's resting place. Williams received approval to place a headstone and reached out to Quaker Oats about whether they would support a monument for Green's grave, their corporate response was that “Nancy Green and Aunt Jemima aren't the same - Aunt Jemima is a fictitious character”. The headstone was placed over Nancy Green's grave on September 5, 2020.

  It's interesting to note that in 2014, a lawsuit was filed against Quaker Oats, PepsiCo and others claiming that Nancy Green and Anna Short Harrington, (who also portrayed Aunt Jemima starting in 1935) were exploited by the company and cheated out of the monetary compensation they were promised. The plaintiffs were two of Harrington’s great grandsons and they sought a multibillion-dollar settlement for descendants of Green and Harrington. The lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice and without leave to amend on February 18, 2015.

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