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Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher June 22, 2020

There’s no proof ‘Aunt Jemima’ was a millionaire

If Your Time is short

 

  • Nancy Green served as the longtime model for Aunt Jemima, attaining perhaps a middle-class lifestyle, but there is no evidence she died a millionaire.

When Nancy Green, the inspiration for Aunt Jemima, passed away in 1923, it would have been newsworthy had she died as one of America’s first black millionaires. Green had been enslaved in Kentucky until after the Civil War. 

But we can’t find any evidence for such a claim.

The claim is made in an image shared in a June 17 Facebook post from Peggy Hubbard, a black Republican and former U.S. Senate candidate. Her post has been shared more than 186,000 times. It came hours after the maker of the Aunt Jemima brand of syrup and pancakes announced it is removing the name and image because "Aunt Jemima's origins are based on a racial stereotype."

"We as black people don't know our history! Here is something that Black History Month doesn't tell you! They feed us b.s. and, hide the TRUTH from us. Nancy Green aka Aunt Jemima was the FIRST black millionaire! she sold her pancake mix to General Mills Corp. The jokes on US black people."

Hubbard and other posts like it include a photo of what appears to be a screenshot from Green’s Wikipedia page. 

The image claims that after Green was freed, "she rolled her talent into a cooking brand that General Mills bought and used her likeness." She was the first woman hired as the Aunt Jemima and died "as one of America’s first black millionaires."

Why Aunt Jemima is in the news

Quaker Oats Co. announced June 17 it will remove the image of Aunt Jemima from its packaging and change the name of the more than 130-year-old brand, saying: 

"We recognize Aunt Jemima's origins are based on a racial stereotype. While work has been done over the years to update the brand in a manner intended to be appropriate and respectful, we realize those changes are not enough."

The announcement came in the aftermath of the Minneapolis police brutality death on May 25 of George Floyd.

Featured Fact-check

No millionaire evidence

The picture that emerges about Green’s work as Aunt Jemima is that it helped provide her a comfortable living, but did not set her up as wealthy.

At least, we couldn’t find any evidence of it. Fact-checkers Snopes also researched this claim and came up empty-handed. And Green’s Wikipedia page, which is presented as the source of the claim, makes no mention of her being a millionaire. 

Green was the inspiration for the first Aunt Jemima and served as the face of the brand for more than 100 years, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal. She was born in 1834 and enslaved until the war ended, when she moved to Chicago. She connected with flour manufacturers there and later did a pancakes demonstration at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. 

A video biography says Green funded programs to fight poverty in Chicago, but there is no other reference to her wealth. A story by KYTV-TV in Lexington, Ky., said Green "gained financial freedom and used the money to help her community." Women’s Health magazine makes no reference to Green’s wealth.

Several experts told us they are aware of no evidence that Green was a millionaire. They include: Kenneth Janken, professor in the Department of African, African American, and Diaspora Studies at the University of North Carolina; Shane White, a University of Sydney history professor and author of a book on America’s first Black Wall Street millionaire; David Pilgrim, the Ferris State University Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia founder and director; Fred Opie, a professor of history and foodways at Babson College; Rutgers University-Newark African-American and African Studies professor John Keene; and culinary author historian Adrian Miller.

"Unless her family had something passed down, it’s hard to believe that she became a millionaire," Patricia Turner, professor of African American Studies and World Arts and Culture at UCLA, told PolitiFact. 

"She was probably paid more than she had been as a cook. She was likely able to lead a middle-class black life, being a supporter of her church and other causes, own a home," Turner said. But "there was no reason for the company to pay her that well. They could easily hire other black women."

Our ruling

Social media posts say Green, the first Aunt Jemima model, died "as one of America’s first black millionaires."

There’s no evidence Green was a millionaire, and experts say they know of none. 

We rate this claim False.

Our Sources

Facebook post (archived here), June 17, 2020

PR Newswire, Quaker Oats Co. news release, June 17, 2020

Snopes, "Did the Woman Behind Aunt Jemima Die a Millionaire?", June 18, 2020

Email, culinary author historian Adrian Miller, June 19, 2020

Email, Patricia Turner, professor of African American Studies and World Arts and Culture at UCLA, June 20, 2020

YouTube, Sticky Figures biography of Nancy Green, Feb. 19, 2018

Louisville Courier-Journal, "Aunt Jemima's image pulled from boxes, putting an end to a story that began in Kentucky," June 18, 2020

KYTV-TV, "Kentucky woman who portrays Aunt Jemima reacts to brand being retired," June 18, 2020

Women’s Health, "Aunt Jemima Is Based On A Caricature, But A Real Black Woman, Nancy Green, Was Hired To Portray Her --She worked with the brand until 1923," June 17, 2020

Email, Ferris State University Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia founder and director David Pilgrim, June 18, 2020

Email, Kenneth Janken, professor in the Department of African, African American, and Diaspora Studies at the University of North Carolina, June 18, 2020

Email, University of Sydney history professor Shane White and author of a book on America’s first Black Wall Street millionaire, June 18, 2020

Email, Fred Opie, professor of history and foodways at Babson College, June 19, 2020

Email, Rutgers University-Newark African-American and African Studies professor John Keene, June 20, 2020

Associated Press, "Post on Aunt Jemima's history shared widely on social media is not true," June 19, 2020

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There’s no proof ‘Aunt Jemima’ was a millionaire

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