WILMINGTON — She’s a little-known historical figure that “turned poison into medicine.”
The Murphy Theatre will host Debra Faulk in her one-woman show “Nancy Green: Being Aunt Jemima, the Pancake Queen” on Thursday, Feb. 27 at 7 p.m. for the general public (and prior to that at 11 a.m. for Wilmington City Schools).
There is no cost to attend this special Black History Month presentation, thanks to the generosity of local sponsors.
Faulk was invited here by the Rev. Dr. Tom Stephenson of the First Christian Church in Wilmington after he saw the show in Kentucky.
“This is an amazing presentation, full of insight and humor,” said Stephenson.
After looking at photos of the Murphy Theatre, Faulk told the News Journal by phone that it reminds her of her appearance at the Apollo Theater in New York during her days as a stand-up comedian.
Faulk describes “Nancy Green” as a story about a woman going from “slavery to bravery.”
“When I got this role, I had to figure out how to turn the poison of slavery into medicine,” said Faulk.
The show was written by Bo List of Lexington, Ky., who wrote similar shows about President Abraham Lincoln and pioneer Daniel Boone for Kentucky Humanities. The independent, nonprofit affiliate is dedicated to “telling Kentucky’s story through programs and services that create a legacy of pride in the wealth of Kentucky culture,” according to their Facebook page.
The show came about when Kentucky Humanities sought to include more diversity. Faulk was approached with the role by List, a former professor of hers.
The two then did independent research on Green, including visiting her house, her church, and her final resting place in Chicago.
“I expressed to Bo, in order to do the show, I had to figure out where the dignity is in this,” said Faulk.
She began to notice, in particular, the sacrifices Green made as a former slave to go and portray this “Mammy-like” character.
While into the mindset of the role, Faulk discovered something about herself.
“I found out how much she cared,” said Faulk. “Portraying Nancy Green taught me how to be a better woman, which I pass on to my students, especially teenage mothers.”
Discovering that Green was a storyteller was another moment that made Faulk go, “I’m her!”
Green was born into slavery in 1834 in Montgomery County, Kentucky.
She became known nationwide as the first Aunt Jemima of Aunt Jemima’s Pancakes in the early 20th century.
In 1890, she was hired by the R.T. Davis Milling Company in Missouri to represent Aunt Jemima — an advertising character named after a song from a minstrel show.
Portraying Aunt Jemima gave Green financial independence that few African Americans had at the time. She used her wealth to empower her community, help her church, invest in anti-poverty programs, and advocate for equal rights.
Faulk wants locals to know the show isn’t about slavery. To summarize the show, she cited the tagline and final line of the show: “It doesn’t matter where you come from, it doesn’t matter where you’ve been, it certainly doesn’t matter what they call you. It’s in all of us to do good.”
For more on the free show, visit the Facebook page “Nancy Green as Aunt Jemima — The Pancake Queen.”
This event is co-sponsored by Kentucky Humanities, Murphy Theatre, Wilmington College, Wilmington City Schools, Wilmington News Journal, Wilmington Area Ministerial Association, Clinton County History Center, Bible Missionary Baptist Church Ministries, Cornerstone Baptist Church, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Ada Chapel Friends, Quinn Chapel AME Church, and Wilmington Friends.
Reach John Hamilton at 937-382-2574