Was Aunt Jemima a ‘millionaire’? Nancy Green’s work for Quaker Oats explained

Approved ~~ MJM

Following Quaker Oats’ announcement that they are completely replacing the Aunt Jemima brand, there has been lots of questions about the origins of the Aunt Jemima figure.

In the wake of George Floyd’s death and Black Lives Matter protests which have reverberated globally, many brands are finally listening to and learning from criticisms which they have received for decades.

Whether that’s fashion brands finally being held accountable for their lack of inclusivity, or companies whose employee guidelines are explicitly discriminative, there has been a long-awaited reckoning across industries around the world.

Quaker Oats is the latest to deal with such accusations of racism, largely centred on their brand Aunt Jemima.

But was Aunt Jemima a real person? Where has the figure come from and why do people online believe she was a real-life millionaire?

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Was Aunt Jemima a real person?

Aunt Jemima was not a real person, but the original face of the brand was Nancy Green, a formerly enslaved Black woman.

Nancy Green was born into slavery on November 17th, 1834 in Kentucky. At the age of 56 (in 1890), Nancy was hired as one of the first models for the Aunt Jemima brand. Aunt Jemima was named after a song from a minstrel show.

Nancy, who was originally dressed as a minstrel character on the 130-year-old brand’s packaging has evolved over time to reflect a change in attitudes/ In recent years, Quaker Oats removed the “mammy” kerchief she wore, however this move was still not enough. The removal of Nancy’s image and the Aunt Jemima brand is a long-awaited change which has been welcomed by many.

Nancy Green and Aunt Jemima

Although there were numerous African-American women who were the original models for Aunt Jemima, Nancy Green was the most well known.

In 1893, Green was introduced as Aunt Jemima at the World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chicago. Here it was her job to operate a pancake-cooking display. Nancy’s success at this Expo landed her a lifetime contract to adopt the Aunt Jemima name and promote the pancake mix in a promotional drive.

Nancy was still working under the character of Aunt Jemima until her death in 1923.

Question for Discussion:

Knowing that Nancy Green (a former Slave) went on to become a millionaire and didn’t feel slighted by the character she portrayed, how would you think she would’ve felt knowing her character is being placed in the dustbin of history?

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