Jack Daniel’s Embraces a Hidden Ingredient: Help From a Slave

By 

Visitors to the Jack Daniel’s distillery. Only recently has the company begun to embrace the story of Nearis Green, the enslaved man from whom Daniel learned to make his great whiskey. Credit Nathan Morgan for The New York Times

Visitors to the Jack Daniel’s distillery. Only recently has the company begun to embrace the story of Nearis Green, the enslaved man from whom Daniel learned to make his great whiskey. Credit Nathan Morgan for The New York Times

LYNCHBURG, Tenn. — Every year, about 275,000 people tour the Jack Daniel’s distillery here, and as they stroll through its brick buildings nestled in a tree-shaded hollow, they hear a story like this: Sometime in the 1850s, when Daniel was a boy, he went to work for a preacher, grocer and distiller named Dan Call. The preacher was a busy man, and when he saw promise in young Jack, he taught him how to run his whiskey still — and the rest is history.

This year is the 150th anniversary of Jack Daniel’s, and the distillery, home to one of the world’s best-selling whiskeys, is using the occasion to tell a different, more complicated tale. Daniel, the company now says, didn’t learn distilling from Dan Call, but from a man named Nearis Green — one of Call’s slaves.

This version of the story was never a secret, but it is one that the distillery has only recently begun to embrace, tentatively, in some of its tours, and in a social media and marketing campaign this summer.

“It’s taken something like the anniversary for us to start to talk about ourselves,” said Nelson Eddy, Jack Daniel’s in-house historian.

Frontier history is a gauzy and unreliable pursuit, and Nearis Green’s story — built on oral history and the thinnest of archival trails — may never be definitively proved. Still, the decision to tell it resonates far beyond this small city.

A man believed to be the son of Nearis Green sits at the right hand of Jack Daniel (center, in white hat). This photo, in Daniel’s old office,was taken at his distillery in Tennessee in the late 1800s.

A man believed to be the son of Nearis Green sits at the right hand of Jack Daniel (center, in white hat). This photo, in Daniel’s old office,was taken at his distillery in Tennessee in the late 1800s. It was highly unusual for an enslaved worker to be photographed, especially alongside his owner and white paid employees.

For years, the prevailing history of American whiskey has been framed as a lily-white affair, centered on German and Scots-Irish settlers who distilled their surplus grains into whiskey and sent it to far-off markets, eventually creating a $2.9 billion industry and a product equally beloved by Kentucky colonels and Brooklyn hipsters.

Some also see the move as a savvy marketing tactic. “When you look at the history of Jack Daniel’s, it’s gotten glossier over the years,” said Peter Krass, the author of “Blood and Whiskey: The Life and Times of Jack Daniel.” “In the 1980s, they aimed at yuppies. I could see them taking it to the next level, to millennials, who dig social justice issues.”

Jack Daniel’s says it simply wants to set the record straight. The Green story has been known to historians and locals for decades, even as the distillery officially ignored it.

Left out of that account were men like Nearis Green. Slavery and whiskey, far from being two separate strands of Southern history, were inextricably entwined. Enslaved men not only made up the bulk of the distilling labor force, but they often played crucial skilled roles in the whiskey-making process. In the same way that white cookbook authors often appropriated recipes from their black cooks, white distillery owners took credit for the whiskey.

President George Washington relied on six slaves to help run his rye whiskey distillery, one of the largest on the East Coast. This is a re-creation of the grist mill and distillery at Mount Vernon, Washington’s home in Virginia. Credit: Lexey Swall for The New York Times

President George Washington relied on six slaves to help run his rye whiskey distillery, one of the largest on the East Coast. This is a re-creation of the grist mill and distillery at Mount Vernon, Washington’s home in Virginia. Credit: Lexey Swall for The New York Times

In deciding to talk about Green, Jack Daniel’s may be hoping to get ahead of a collision between the growing popularity of American whiskey among younger drinkers and a heightened awareness of the hidden racial politics behind America’s culinary heritage….

A business built on slave help may not seem like a selling point, which may explain why Jack Daniel’s is taking things slowly. The Green story is an optional part of the distillery tour, left to the tour guide’s discretion, and the company is still considering whether it will flesh out the story in new displays at its visitors center.

However far the distillery decides to go, it is placing itself at the center of a larger issue that distillers and whiskey historians have begun to grapple with only in the last few years: the deep ties between slavery and whiskey.

Read the full article here.

More Breaking News here.

BuzzFeed Features Dr. Cameron and ABHM in “How to Survive a Lynching”

By Syreeta McFadden, BuzzFeed.com

Lawrence Beitler was sitting on the front porch of his home in Marion, Indiana, when someone asked him to tote his 8×10 view camera to the town square. It was past midnight on August 8, 1930, and Beitler, 44, was a professional photographer who mostly shot portraits of weddings, schoolchildren, and church groups. That night, he would be photographing a lynching. He “didn’t even want to do it,” according to a later interview with his daughter, “but taking pictures was his business.”

Photographer Lawrence Beitler was called from his studio after the second teen was hanged. He apparently lit the nighttime scene. It appears that tree limbs were removed from the spreading maple, so that the bodies of Abram Smith and Tommy Shipp could be seen. Jimmie Cameron was to be the next victim.

Photographer Lawrence Beitler was called from his studio to document the murdered boys and their proud lynchers for posterity.

By the time Beitler arrived on the square, a jubilant mob of nearly 15,000 white men, women, and children had gathered. Earlier that night, a group of vigilantes had charged the county jail to seize two black teenagers — Thomas Shipp, 18, and Abram Smith, 19 — who’d allegedly raped a young white woman and murdered her boyfriend. Beitler took one photo of Shipp’s and Smith’s brutalized bodies hanging from a tree, the crowd of eager onlookers before them, and left.

Lynching, in the American imagination, is considered to be solely the provenance of Confederate racism, one of the most prominent examples being the 1955 murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till in Mississippi. Yet the most notorious lynching imagery prior to Till came from Union towns: Duluth, MinnesotaCairo, IllinoisOmaha, Nebraska — and Marion, Indiana. It is Beitler’s photograph, in particular, that has served as the most glaring visual reminder of the country’s decades-long spectacle of racism and public murder. The photo of the lynching of two Indiana teenagers would never grace the pages of the local paper. But the image is everywhere.

Souvenir Portrait of the Lynching of Abram Smith and Thomas Shipp, August 7, 1930, by studio photographer Lawrence Beitler. Courtesy of the Indiana Hisorical Society.

Souvenir Portrait of the Lynching of Abram Smith and Thomas Shipp, August 7, 1930. Courtesy of the Indiana Hisorical Society.

It was Beitler’s photograph that inspired Abel Meeropol to write his anti-lynching poem “Strange Fruit” in 1936, which Billie Holiday would later record and make famous. Just last month, a decade-old mural adaptation of the photograph in Elgin, Illinois, which features only the faces of the white participants, came under public scrutiny as people discovered the image’s origin.

The photo of the lynching of two Indiana teenagers would never grace the pages of the local paper. But the image is everywhere.

I can’t say exactly when I first encountered the image. It might have been as an undergrad at Columbia, in the library of the black students’ lounge as I thumbed through a copy of Ralph Ginzburg’s 100 Years of Lynchings. But my understanding of its significance came in the late summer of 1996, when a friend and I visited America’s Black Holocaust Museum (ABHM) in my hometown of Milwaukee.

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Dr. James Cameron in America’s Black Holocaust Museum.

When we entered the main exhibition room, there was a built-to-scale rendering of Beitler’s photo made out of wax, including the facsimiles of Shipp and Smith hanging from the tree. “Did you know that there was a third boy they tried to lynch that night?” our museum guide, a tall but frail older man, asked us, his voice warm and gravelly. We didn’t. Our guide went on to explain that there were actually three ropes strung up on the maple tree in Marion on August 7, 1930. A third teenager had been dragged from his jail cell to the courthouse square. His name was James Cameron and he was the only known person to have ever survived a lynching in America.

We were standing in front of him….

 

Read the well-researched and beautifully written full feature article about ABHM’s founder, James Cameron, the lynching he survived, and the museum he founded.

Dr. Cameron’s memoir, A Time of Terror: A Survivor’s Story, is the only account of a lynching ever written by a survivor. You can buy the book here.

Watch Dr. Cameron tell his story in the video in this exhibit.

More Breaking News here.

Grand Jury Declines to Indict Cop Who Slammed Teen Girl to Ground

BY BREANNA EDWARDS, theroot.com

Cpl. Eric Casebolt will not face criminal charges after a controversial video showed him aggressively tossing a 15-year-old girl in a bathing suit to the ground at a pool party and then pinning her to the ground with his knees.

A Texas grand jury declined to indict a McKinney, Texas, police officer who was seen on video slamming a teenage girl to the ground outside a pool party last year, WFAA reports.

Now-former Police Cpl. Eric Casebolt was thrust into the spotlight in June 2015 after seven minutes of video showed the officer aggressively tossing the 15-year-old girl to the ground before pinning her with his knees. Casebolt also pulled his gun on two other youths who came running to help the girl.

A Collin County grand jury ruled Thursday that there was not enough evidence to press criminal charges against Casebolt, WFAA reports.

“We’re glad that the system worked in his favor in this case,” Casebolt’s attorney, Tom Mills, said of the decision, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Casebolt resigned four days after the incident.

Officer Eric Casebolt

Officer Eric Casebolt

Following the decision, the family of the teenage girl Casebolt slammed to the ground said they will sue Casebolt, the Morning News notes.

“We currently live in a time in which the public servants who are hired to protect and serve are not required to uphold the very law they are sworn to enforce,” attorney Kim T. Cole said in a prepared statement. “The message is clear.  Police are above the law.  This must change.”

According to the Morning News, following the grand jury’s decision, McKinney police will be hosting a forum Monday evening titled, “Moving Forward, Strengthening Police and Community Relationships.”

Read more here.

More Breaking News here.

Time of Terror Book Talks & Exhibits in June 2016

Want to learn more about ABHM’s award winning book, see its newest traveling exhibit, hear talks by its griots?

There are several great opportunities in Milwaukee this month!

You aren’t in Milwaukee, but would like to have a speaker come to your group? Click here for a Griot To Go!

JUNE 13-23 – MUSEUM EXHIBIT and BOOK TALK at MILWAUKEE CITY HALL

Rotunda, City Hall

200 E Wells St, Milwaukee, WI 53202

8:00am to 5:00pm weekdays

Fran Kaplan (L) and Reggie Jackson (R) accepting the Silver IPPY medals on May 10, 2016, in Chicago. They are two of four authors who contributed the additional materials included in A Time of Terror's 3rd edition.

Fran Kaplan (L) and Reggie Jackson (R) accepting the Silver IPPY medals on May 10, 2016, in Chicago. They are two of four authors who contributed the additional materials included in A Time of Terror’s 3rd edition.

– EXHIBIT: The Life and Writings of Dr. James Cameron, an America’s Black Holocaust Museum’s traveling exhibit, will be on display for the public weekdays from June 13-23.

– BOOK TALK / SALE / SIGNING: June 16 – 2:00pm

In conjunction with the exhibit at City Hall, ABHM Head Griot and Time of Terror contributing author Reggie Jackson will speak about the book in the Rotunda. The book will be available for sale and author signing following the talk until 4:00pm.

Sponsored by the Milwaukee Public Library.

JUNE 25-30 – EXHIBIT and TALK at MOBILITY MATTERS / MOBILE DESIGN BOX

Mobile Design Box (UWM – School of Architecture and Urban Planning)

1551 North Water  (Water and East Pleasant Streets)

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

– EXHIBIT: The VIRTUAL Museum and Writings of Dr. James Cameron, an ABHM traveling exhibit, will be on display for the public daily from June 25-30.

– PRESENTATION / DEMONSTRATION: June 25 – 6:00-8:00pm 

In conjunction with the above exhibit at the Mobile Design Box,  A Time of Terror contributing authors Dr. Fran Kaplan, Dr. Robert Smith, and Reggie  Jackson will demonstrate and talk about America’s Black Holocaust virtual (entirely online) Museum and answer the questions:

– BOOK SALE / SIGNING – A Time of Terror will be available for purchase at the event and the contributors will sign books from 7:30-8:00pm.

The exhibit, talk, and book sale/signing are open and free to the public. For more information, visit www.milwaukeeartsbarge.org or www.reciprocitymke.com.

These events are part of the Mobility Matters exhibition, which highlights a series of projects, collaborative practices, and community issues that are transforming the social fabric of the Midwest.

JUNE 27 – BOOK TALK / SALE / SIGNING at BOSWELL BOOK COMPANY

7:00 pm

Boswell Book Company

2559 N. Downer Ave.

Milwaukee, WI 53211

JCinABHM

Dr. James Cameron, lynching survivor, civil rights activist, and founder of America’s Black Holocaust Museum.

Fran Kaplan and Robert Samuel Smith, editors and coauthors of the Introduction to James Cameron’s A Time of Terror: A Survivor’s Story, 3rd edition, will present a reading and audio-visual talk: The Life, Times and Accomplishments of Dr. James Cameron, a Milwaukee hero and early civil rights pioneer.

Dr. Fran Kaplan serves as coordinator of the virtual America’s Black Holocaust Museum. She has been an educator, social worker, writer, and racial justice activist for nearly five decades. Fran has created and run nonprofit and for profit organizations that address issues from women’s health and farmworker rights to nurturing parenting, early childhood education, and peace-building.

Dr. Robert Samuel Smith is Associate Vice Chancellor for Global Inclusion & Engagement, the Director of the Cultures & Communities Program, and Associate Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He teaches courses on African American History, Multicultural America, African Americans and the Law, and U.S. Legal History. He is author of the book Race, Labor and Civil Rights, and contributes a monthly column to Milwaukee Magazine.

Drs. Kaplan and Smith will be joined in the book signing by the late Dr. Cameron’s son, Virgil, and his protégé and book contributor, Reggie Jackson. The event is cosponsored by America’s Black Holocaust Museum.