Growing up, you probably didn’t give too much thought whose face was on that exciting box filled with fluffy , buttery deliciousness; you just wanted your pancakes! But that lady’s name was Nancy green.
In 1834, a beautiful voluptuous woman was born as a slave in Kentucky named Nancy Green. Sometime after the Civil War and Nancy was considered freed, she relocated to Chicago Illinois. There she found a job working as a Cook and nanny.
She worked for Judge last name Walker. All the while miss Green had no idea what the future held for her. Despite being a former slave,to then be freed, just to move across the country and continue to work for the white folk, Miss Nancy Green had a very bubbly down to earth personality. I like to assume that she was a “the glass is half-full’ type of person, which helped stay strong.
Now let’s talk Pancakes. Christian Rutt, originally born in Milwaukee Wisconsin, later moved to Kansas to attend college and become a newspaper editor. I’m guessing he didn’t like his job? I don’t know. But he acquired a business partner called Charles Underwood and they decided to put their coins together to purchase a bankrupt mill called The Pearl Milling Company. They wanted to come up with a excellent self-rising pancake mix that could be sold in stores for the entire world! this was around the time breakfast food was scarce and limited due to issues like affordability and shelf life. Creating an affordable and delicious product with plenty shelf life and affordability would be life changing at that time.
But like any other idea, they needed attention, they needed an image to attract the crowds, by so ; becoming rich. One day while attending a Minstrel blackface show, Rutt watched a person perform this old song called Old Aunt Jemima which by the way the lyrics are atrocious. The person on a stage was dressed in blackface, wore a red bandana a dress and a white apron. Blackface was a blatantly racist and deliberate mockery toward the people of color based on slavery. They even made a Aunt Jemima lullaby !
Rutt was attracted to what the Mammy’s character portrayed , to some, Mamie’s represented home cook meals, comfort, would even bring childhood memories to those who were raised by a mammy. All in all the image brought him comfort and security and happiness which is exactly what he wanted for his brand.
He decided to name their pancake flour Aunt Jemima. The flour mix itself had a few ingredients that simply did not cut the cake. So they pretty much gave up and sold everything to the Davis Milling Company. the company could not wait to perfect the flour and capitalize on the idea. They eventually hired Miss Nancy green to be the face for their brand. Her face literally ended up being on the box. Miss Green would travel around the country with a Barrel shaped prop, offering samples of pancake, and interesting stories. From all that I read they basically gave her a little change here and there to keep her satisfied. I’m sorry to say but it sounds like they were exploiting her, she and others like her would go do these expose shows marketing and promoting their pancakes, including all the chucking and the jiving and singing with the smiles real or not, did they earn what they deserved? No, actually the company would make the money and made sure that she has everything she needed . The company continue to make money off of her work and image, that is until 1926 when they sold to Quaker Oats.
A good thing about all this, is that Miss green had the opportunity to use the podium she was giving to do good for her own people. She became an activist in Chicago Illinois trying to help with the poverty and Injustice that was going on. After everything I have learned from Reading several articles and other resources, I believe that Miss Nancy green had a heart of gold and she loved God and she loved her people. unfortunately her life was taking early after an automobile accident on the street Violently struck her. Miss green was not only inactive it and philanthropist for the Chicago area, she was also one of the founders of the one of the oldest active Baptist Church in Chicago Illinois called Olivet Baptist Church. Miss Nancy green is currently buried at the Oak Woods Cemetery in Chicago Illinois.
I believe she as well as Anna Harrington (originally from South Carolina and worked mostly in New York) and the many others portrayed as Aunt Jemima, deserved their share, which even today their descendants are still trying to sue for the royalties. Now all of a sudden, Quaker Oats claims that the face of Aunt Jemima was just a made up character not based on real person; Nancy Green was very real.
Unfortunately, the way business was done back then was pretty black and white. Almost every time white folks did business with people of color, the whites always ended up with the upper hand because they had the knowledge and the power to back it up. Personally I cannot assume Miss Green’s level of Education, but most of us just had the decision to say yes or no and whether to sign; that is if we had learned how to read and write. “Oh, yeah, this means ABC and this that’s all it is. Sign here.”
Earlier this year, Quaker Oats announced that they were going to rid their boxes and syrups from the face of Aunt Jemima as well as having a total name change. the decision was made because they felt like it was based off of racism and was not politically correct. Now they worry about this? Would Quaker Oats have kept it if it wasn’t for the horrific murder of the late George Floyd, accompanied by outrage and protests all over the country over racial Injustice? Come on now, of course 😏. So would have the other companies that have decided to change if they haven’t already like Uncle Ben’s. Seems like most companies are beginning to have a change of heart these days, the question is, is it genuine? Anyway, rest in peace, Miss Nancy. 🙏🏾
Not so fun fact: The part about Charleston and Rutt originally creating the pancake mix, is thoroughly questioned. there is word that Nancy green and Anna Harrington actually had the original idea. 🤷🏾♀️.