Overlooked No More: Nancy Green, the ‘Real Aunt Jemima’

Overlooked No More: Nancy Green, the ‘Real Aunt Jemima’

Overlooked No More: Nancy Green, the ‘Real Aunt Jemima’

Overlooked No More: Nancy Green, the ‘Real Aunt Jemima’

Better at promotion than profit-making, the partners sold their failing company to the R.T. Davis Mill Company of St. Joseph, Mo., who promptly solicited his salesmen to find a real-life Aunt Jemima.

It was Charles C. Jackson, a food wholesaler, who discovered Green, in 1890. She was a cook for the family of Charles M. Walker Jr., who would become a Chicago alderman, corporation counsel and judge.

Most biographies say that Green was born into slavery on March 4, 1834, in Mt. Sterling, Ky., in Montgomery County, east of Lexington, although the 1900 census lists her year of birth as 1854. (Official birth certificates for slaves were rarely filed.) She won her freedom and was hired as a nanny and housekeeper by Walker’s father, who transplanted the family to Chicago.

Green helped care for Walker’s sons, Charles and Samuel, and her pancakes were said to be popular among the family’s friends.

As Aunt Jemima, she proved to be a promotional bonanza for R.T. Davis at the Columbian Exposition, which included an exhibit of a miniature West African village whose natives were portrayed as primitive savages.

The Aunt Jemima mythology transported Green to a tiny cabin in Louisiana, where she was the loyal cook for a Colonel Higbee, a plantation owner on the Mississippi. When Union soldiers during the Civil War threatened to rip off his mustache, the story went, she diverted them with her pancakes long enough for the colonel to escape. The troops were so smitten that they urged her to come north and share her recipe.

This back story was created by James Webb Young, an advertising executive, and the illustrator N.C. Wyeth (the father of the artist Andrew Wyeth). In promotional material, Aunt Jemima was called “the cook whose cabin became more famous than Uncle Tom’s.”


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