Grave marker to be placed
Crusader Staff Report
A special ceremony will be held when a marker is placed on the grave of Nancy Green, the original Aunt Jemima, some 97 years after her death.
The ceremony will take place at 10 a.m. on Saturday, September 5 at Oak Woods Cemetery, where Green was buried in 1923, in an unmarked grave.
Nancy Green served as Quaker Oats’ first Aunt Jemima archetype while she lived in Chicago.
The ceremony will be sponsored by the Bronzeville Historical Society, which successfully spearheaded a campaign that raised $6,500 for a headstone for Green’s grave. The remembrance will be brief due to COVID-19 restrictions.
The event will cap years of hard work by Bronzeville Historical Society’s Sherry Williams, to honor a Black woman who made significant contributions to the Quaker Oats brand of pancake mixes and products.
In death, Nancy Green remained a forgotten figure as Quaker Oats continued to make money from the Aunt Jemima brand before deciding to retire the name in June, 2020 in the aftermath of the racially-charged George Floyd protests.
To place a marker on Green’s grave Williams had to meet Illinois’ strict laws that required her to get approval from Green’s descendants. Because Green had been dead for nearly 100 years, that goal seemed impossible, with few resources or leads to go on.
Fifteen years went by before Williams was able to get Marcus Hayes, a fourth-generation descendant of Green, to sign the required document for a grave marker.
Williams’ efforts were first chronicled in the Chicago Crusader in 2015.
Because Green is buried in a section with flat headstones, Williams plans to have a similar, but ornate one created to reflect Green’s achievement as the original Aunt Jemima.
Williams plans to fly in Hayes and Green’s other living descendants once the coronavirus pandemic has abated. Williams has set up a Facebook page to raise money for the headstone, which has now been closed after raising a total of $6,829.
Born a slave, Green moved to Chicago in 1865 from Kentucky to work as a maid and cook for the prominent Walker family, whose children grew up to be the late Chicago Judge Charles M. Walker and Dr. Samuel Walker, a wealthy doctor who lived on the North Side, according to an old article in the Chicago Defender.
Because of her fine homestyle cooking and affable personality, Green was referred to Chris Rutt and Charles Underwood, two businessmen who bought the Pearl Milling Company to sell ready-mixed and self-rising pancakes.
After watching a vaudeville show that featured a character named Aunt Jemima, the men hired Green to help sell their product.
Green was given a booth at Chicago’s World Columbian Exposition in 1893 in Jackson Park. According to reports, Green would help sell 50,000 orders for Aunt Jemima’s pancake mix.
News reports said that Green was such a crowd pleaser that a special policeman was hired to keep the lines moving. She was crowned the “Pancake Queen” and given a lifetime contract with the R.T. Davis Milling Company.
The R. T. Davis Milling Company was purchased by the Quaker Oats Company several years after Green died in 1923.