Re-enactor Faulk to portray
Aunt Jemima at Oldham Co.
‘Living Treasures’ reception
Event planned to celebrate this year’s
Oldham County honorees
LA GRANGE, Ky. (January 2019) – Who doesn’t like waking up to Aunt Jemima’s smiling face and the thought of those melt-in-your-mouth pancakes? What many may not know is that Aunt Jemima was a real person, Nancy Green.
Green was born into slavery in 1834 in Montgomery County, Ky., and owned by the Walker family until the end of the Civil War. She was then employed by them. She said they were a good family and treated her well. She even moved with the family to Chicago after the Great Fire in 1872.
Mr. Walker was a prominent businessman and found better opportunities in Chicago after the fire. The Walker children under Green’s care grew up to become Chicago Circuit Judge Charles M. Walker and Dr. Samuel Walker.
Debra Faulk portrays Aunt Jemima, whose real name was Nancy Green.
Eight years later after settling in Chicago, Green was discovered and became known to millions world-wide as Aunt Jemima. The inspiration for her character was Billy Kersands’ American style minstrel-vaudeville song, “Old Aunt Jemima,” written in 1875. The Aunt Jemima character was prominent in minstrel shows in the late 19th century and was later adopted by commercial interests to represent the Aunt Jemima brand.
• For more information or to make reservations, call the Oldham County History Center at (502) 222-0826.
The fascinating story of Aunt Jemima will be told by re-enactor Debra Faulk at 1 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 12, at at the Oldham County History Center. This Kentucky Humanities Council presentation will be given as part of the Living Treasures Reception.
The program is free for friends and family members of the Living Treasures and the community, but reservations are strongly suggested. The program will be held inside the Rob Morris Educational Building, 207 W. Jefferson St. on the campus of the Oldham County History Center.
The original concept for the Aunt Jemima character had been created by Charles Rutt and Chris Underwood, who founded the Pearl Milling Co. in 1889. The came up with America’s first pre-mixed, self-rising pancake flour. One year later the duo registered the Aunt Jemima trademark and renamed the company the Aunt Jemima Manufacturing Co.
In 1893, Rutt and Underwood sold their company to the R.T. Davis Milling Co. That same year, Green first appeared to the public at the Columbian Exposition (Chicago World’s Fair), representing Davis’ company.
She was an instant success. So many people were interested in the Aunt Jemima exhibit that police were called in for crowd control. Green served up pancakes to thousands of people who fell in love with her warm personality, friendly demeanor and scrumptious cooking.
As a result, she was given an award for showmanship at the exposition. Green received a staggering 50,000 orders for pancake mix and a lifetime contract to serve as spokesperson for the product.
Nancy Green was the first of several African-American models hired to promote the corporate trademark of “Aunt Jemima.” Playing this role gave her the financial independence that few African Americans, and very few women, experienced at that time.
Green used her wealth to empower her community. She was particularly active in her church, being one of the organizers of the Olivet Baptist Church, which had more than 9,000 members. She led missionary trips, invested her time in anti-poverty programs for African Americans and advocated for equal rights. Green died on Aug. 30, 1923, in Chicago when a car collided with a truck and flipped over onto the sidewalk where she was standing.
Faulk said she first learned about Green from “family stories, hearsay and a former University of Kentucky professor and playwright, Bo List.” When the call went out for living history presenters to portray characters from the state’s colorful past, Faulk said “the character chose me.”
She relied on books, museums, librarians, historians and scholars to help shape her portrayal of Green. For Green, playing the role of Aunt Jemima meant “freedom and worthiness,” said Faulk, who is originally from Lexington, Ky.
Faulk is a professional actress and comedian. She graduated in 2007 from the University of Kentucky, where she majored in theatre. In 2013 she received her Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) in Media Studies with emphasis on Television, Film & Theatre from California State University, Los Angeles.
She has worked as a professional comedienne for over two decades and is the founder and artistic director of her own company called Rainbow Attractions, LLC. Her company combines entertainment with education highlighting serious health issues with added elements of humor and joy.
In addition to portraying Green, Faulk is also a scholar for the “Prime Time Reading” Program, with Breckinridge Elementary School in Lexington, Ky. This Family Literacy Program is provided in association with the Kentucky Humanities Council.
The 2018 Living Treasures to be honored at this program include Dee Craig, Donald Whitehouse, Bobby Brown, Shirley Hull Hardesty O’Bryan, Richard Carey, Robert Steele, Robert Brent, Denise Watts-Wilson, Phil Green, Cheryl Sabin, and Ruth Ann Beard.
The Living Treasures Program recognizes people who presently live in or are from Oldham County. Their oral histories and photographs are recorded, archived and made available to the public at the Oldham County History Center. The Oldham Era is sponsoring this event in conjunction with the Oldham County History Center.
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