The Conversation

The story of Nearest Green, America’s first known Black master distiller

Stefanie Benjamin, Assistant Professor of Retail, Hospitality, and Tourism Management, University of Tennessee – Saturday

When you hear the name Jack Daniel, whiskey probably comes to mind.

George Green – the son of distiller Nathan 'Nearest' Green – was one of seven generations of the Green family who worked for the Jack Daniel's distillery.

© Wikimedia CommonsGeorge Green – the son of distiller Nathan ‘Nearest’ Green – was one of seven generations of the Green family who worked for the Jack Daniel’s distillery.

But what about the name Nathan “Uncle Nearest” Green?

In 2016, The New York Times published a story about the distiller’s “hidden ingredient” – “help from a slave.” In the article, the brand officially acknowledged that an enslaved man, Nearest Green, taught Jack Daniel how to make whiskey. Since then, scholars, researchers and journalists have descended upon Lynchburg, Tennessee, hoping to learn more about a man who, until then, had appeared as a mere appendage in the story of the country’s most popular whiskey brand.

As a scholar of tourism whose research involves highlighting marginalized populations and counternarratives, I followed these developments with keen interest.

In the fall of 2020, my critical sustainable tourism students created a short documentary, “Uncovering Nearest.” I wanted my students to learn more about Green, since so many voices and faces of enslaved Africans and Black Americans have been silenced or erased from American history textbooks and heritage tourism sites.

Black culinary innovation

Popular media, through shows like Netflix’s “High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America,” have finally started to acknowledge the ways in which Black Americans have contributed to some of America’s most iconic dishes and spirits.

A statue of Jack Daniel in Lynchburg, Tenn.

The Nearest Green exhibit at the Jack Daniel Distillery.

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