The Making Of Aunt Jemima
Popular—and now defunct—syrup mascot "Aunt Jemima" wasn't just controversial, she was a real person. In the late 1880s, the R.T. Davis Milling company was looking for someone to portray a mammy archetype for their new product. They landed on Nancy Green, a 59-year-old freed Black woman who won the job after her employer recommended her.
Green launched right into duties as "Aunt Jemima," making her debut at the World's Columbian Exhibition in Chicago. At the exhibition, she stood beside the "world's largest flour barrel," helped make pancakes, and told patently false stories about how wonderful the Old South was.
An Aunt For Life?
Apparently, this was exactly what the company wanted. They offered Green a "lifetime contract" after the Expo, then ramped up her promotional appearances. Over decades, Green worked fairs, festivals, and the like across America as "Aunt Jemima." She even had her own billboards and her own slogan for her travels: "I's in town, honey." Then it all ended in betrayal.
After Green refused to make the arduous journey to attend the 1900 Paris Exhibition, the company unceremoniously dropped her. In no time at all, they'd replaced her with another woman, Agnes Moody. To add insult to injury, they now touted Moodey as the "original" Aunt Jemima. Apparently, that lifetime contract was really just a bait and switch.
Nancy Green lived out the rest of her years as a housekeeper, passing in 1923 at the age of 89. Even at the very end, few people in her life ever knew she was an icon.