For 150 years, the story of how Jack Daniel’s whiskey came to be centered around a man named Dan Call. The story credited Call for teaching young Jack the fine points of running a liquor still.
That story is just what it was – a story.
The New York Times reports that this year, for the 150th anniversary of Jack Daniel’s, the company is admitting that Daniel didn’t learn distilling from Dan Call, but from Nearis Green—one of Call’s slaves.
The Times reports that this “version” of whiskey history was never a secret, but “is one that the distillery has only recently begun to embrace.”
“It’s taken something like the anniversary for us to start to talk about ourselves,” said Nelson Eddy, Jack Daniel’s in-house historian.
The Times reports that “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.
Slavery ended with ratification of the 13th Amendment in 1865. Daniel opened his distillery a year later, employing two of Green’s sons.
In the photo below of Daniel and his workers taken in the late 19th century, a black man, possibly one of Green’s sons, sits at his immediate right — a sharp contrast to contemporaneous photos from other distilleries, where black employees were made to stand in the back rows.
The truth story has been known by the locals and historians for years. Jack Daniels simply never embraced it.
Now they say they want to set the record straight.
By admitting the truth, Jack Daniels could be avoiding a racial run in with its diverse demographic of consumers. Taking advantage of the 150 Anniversary spotlight to come clean and give Blacks credit for the role they played in what is a solid American institution is bound to get them some thumbs up.