Nancy Green, the original face and spokeswoman of Aunt Jemima, is finally getting a headstone, 97 years after her death.
Sherry Williams, the Founder and President of the Bronzeville Historical Society that preserves photographs, documents, cultural practices, and memorabilia of black Chicagoans, has been campaigning for a headstone at Nancy Green’s gravesite for several years. Green is buried in the old Section R3 Lot 291 of the historic Oak Woods Cemetery, on the Chicago’s southside, in an unmarked pauper’s grave that is also the resting place of African American notables such as journalist and anti-lynching crusader, Ida B. Wells, Mayor of Chicago, Harold Washington, founder of Johnson Publishing Company, John H. Johnson and Olympic gold medalist, Jesse Owens.
When Quaker Oats announced early this year that the company would retire the Aunt Jemima brand, Williams received the cemetery’s approval to add the headstone. It was a daunting task for Williams to locate Nancy Green’s descendants to get their permission for the headstone. Williams did genealogy research and was able to locate Marcus Hayes, the great-great-great-nephew of Green. He was able to sign an affidavit of heirship as proof of his family lineage.
Nancy Green was born enslaved in Montgomery County, Kentucky, in 1834. She moved to Chicago in 1865, worked as a maid for a wealthy white family. Chris L. Rutt and Charles Underwood, who bought the Pearl Milling Company and created a self-rising pancake mix, hired Green for her cheerful personality and homemade cooking. In 1893, Green had a booth set up at the Chicago’s World Columbian Exposition in Jackson Park. She attracted crowds to her booth with her storytelling of the South and delicious fluffy, mouth-watering pancakes. Green sold 50,000 orders for the Aunt Jemima pancake mix. She was awarded a medal, crowned “Pancake Queen,” and given a lifetime contract with the R.T. Davis Milling Company, purchased by the Quaker Oats Company.
Green lived in the Bronzeville neighborhood, founding member and missionary worker at Olivet Baptist Church, Chicago’s oldest black congregation. “This church was noted for its work to shield those who had escaped slavery, who arrived here in Chicago because there were many slave catchers in Chicago still pursuing people who were of African descent,” Williams told ABC News.
In 1923 at the age of 89, Nancy Green died after being hit by a car in Chicago. After her death, Quaker Oats continued the legacy by hiring African American women to portray Aunt Jemima. The company is updating a new name and design of its 130-year-old brand to be unveiled sometime in the Fall.
Saturday, September 5, 2020, at 10:00 am CST; there will be a Nancy Green Remembrance at Oak Woods Cemetery via Zoom, where the headstone will be unveiled. To participate in the virtual remembrance, register at https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZIqd–hrTMjH930wb84cGFWHvKvbFjMpwgM
Tammy Gibson is a travel historian and blogger. Find her at www.sankofatravelher.com, Facebook, Instagram @SankofaTravelher, and Twitter @SankofaTravelHr.