White folk have been touring the Jack Daniel’s distillery for quite some time and getting the America’s education system version of the company’s history: whitewashed and sans slavery. The story they were told, while casually strolling through the shady grounds? Well, per an article in The New York Times: “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.”
Ain’t that just a true American story of rags to riches? A young boy who worked hard and pulled himself up by his bootstraps to create one of the nation’s most profitable brands? It must’ve just leave white eyes so teary and white folk so proud.
Except, like many good ole American tales of meritocracy and success, they forgot to mention the slave stuff. Yup, young lad Daniel learned how to distill Whiskey not from a preacher, but from a slave named Nearis Green, one of the preacher’s slaves. The company claimed that this history was never unknown, but admittedly they just never openly shared it with the thousands of patrons who toured their distillery every single year.
“It’s taken something like the anniversary for us to start to talk about ourselves,” Nelson Eddy, Jack Daniel’s in-house historian, told the New York Times.
All of a sudden, The Jack Daniels Company wants to embrace this history and start telling the true story of how the brand was founded. Why? Well, some are speculating that the Whiskey Company is trying to attract more “socially conscious,” Millennials and what better way to do that than own up to the fact that you not only likely stole a slave’s distillery methods (for which he was unlikely compensated), but also tried to sweep that history under the rug for years, until it became convenient and popular?
“When you look at the history of Jack Daniel’s, it’s gotten glossier over the years,” Peter Krass, the author of “Blood and Whiskey: The Life and Times of Jack Daniel.” told the New York Times “In the 1980s, they aimed at yuppies. I could see them taking it to the next level, to millennials, who dig social justice issues.”
This is seriously making me question if I will ever drink Jack Daniels again. And not because of the slave history, or even because they tried to hide that history. Heck, if that was a reason to not purchase a brand, there’d be only few brands left to choose from in the United States. However, when a company tries to use the tragic history of a people as a marketing ploy, or to win applause from a demographic, that just shouldn’t sit right.