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Kentucky woman who portrays Aunt Jemima reacts to brand being retired

Published: Jun. 18, 2020 at 4:45 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 21, 2020 at 11:18 AM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - Quaker Oats announced Wednesday they are retiring the Aunt Jemima brand and logo.

The woman who inspired Aunt Jemima was native to Kentucky.

Debra Faulk is an actress with the Kentucky Humanities Chataqua series. She portrays Nancy Green, a Kentucky woman born into slavery.

Debra Faulk is an actress with the Kentucky Humanities Chataqua series.  She portrays Nancy Green, the woman hired to play "Aunt Jemima" back in the 1870s.
Debra Faulk is an actress with the Kentucky Humanities Chataqua series. She portrays Nancy Green, the woman hired to play "Aunt Jemima" back in the 1870s.(WKYT)

Green worked for the Walker family and moved with them to Chicago in 1872. There she met businessman R. T. Davis. He hired her to play “Aunt Jemima,” a popular minstrel character, to promote his premixed pancake recipe at the Chicago World Fair.

“They sat her up in a giant flour barrel pretending to be Aunt Jemima,” Faulk said. “So, she would make the batter to show people how easy it is to make this new product.”

Green gained financial freedom and used the money to help her community. But her portrayal as Aunt Jemima was very controversial.

”On one hand she was adored by these people who lined up to see her prepare these delicious meals,” Faulk said. “On the other hand, you have your people upset with you for portraying this role and we just came out of slavery.”

More than 130 years later, Green’s memory is still sitting on grocery shelves. Quaker Oats is now retiring the Aunt Jemima brand based on a racial stereotype.

“It speaks to the sign of the times,” Faulk said. “I definitely support Quaker Oats for pulling that for everyone.”

Faulk has performed the one-woman show for the past three years, inspired by Green’s story.

After spending time in Hollywood, she’s returned home and to her alma mater. She studied theater as an undergrad. She’s now working on her PhD and wants to give back.

“I believe that if it wasn’t for Nancy Green, I wouldn’t be even able to stand on this campus at the University of Kentucky,” Faulk said. “It took a lot for us to get here.”

Copyright 2020 WKYT. All rights reserved.

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