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What Does Legacy Mean?

Updated: Jun 11, 2022



This week, a look at whiskey, legacy, and more through the lens of Uncle Nearest, a new whiskey brand that's won a slew of awards. Take a walk with me on my recent trip through their distillery in Shelbyville, TN, just an hour outside of Nashville. In addition, check out upcoming community events!


For MATM members who are receiving this month's gift boxes, you'll have Uncle Nearest and a few other of my favorite beverage-related goodies in your boxes, all from Black-owned companies.


Take care,

Anela

 

What Does It Mean To Leave A Legacy?

Image Description: Four photos from Anela's recent trip to Nashville, where she and a MATM member visited the Nearest Green Distillery outside of the city. Clockwise from the top right they show Anela crouching in front of a mural of butterfly wings on one of the exterior walls, a sign that says "welcome to the family #DrinkHonorably," Anela in front of a side of a white barn-looking building with the name of the distillery in green lettering , and gorgeous backlit bottles of Uncle Nearest Whiskey on shelves at the distillery shop.


The sun shines so brightly I'm almost blinded. The land around us is lush. The bright green just screams springtime and it's warm enough to suggest that summer's intense humidity will soon be pressing down on us. Springtime adds an element of additional majesty to the distillery grounds we're exploring, almost as if you can see the hint of what is to come in this space.


The tour starts with the video below, narrated by a Hollywood actor with a voice so deep and smooth it feels almost as if father time himself is telling us the story. In a dark wood-paneled room modeled after a speakeasy, fitted with delicate stained glass windows that celebrate the contributions of women activists, a group of us sit and learn about Nathan "Nearest" Green. The video starts off the tour and while I sit in silence and try not to cry, I think about what it means to leave behind a legacy.


Nathan "Nearest" Green was an enslaved Black man who went on to become the godfather of Tennessee Whiskey. He mentored the founder of Jack Daniel's, one of the world's best-selling American whiskeys. It was Green's mastery of a charcoal filtering process, thought to be inspired by West African practices, that defined Tennessee Whiskey. Green and his descendants worked for the Daniel family and Jack Daniel's brand for generations, maintaining a close family friendship that persists today. Some of Green's descendants still work for Jack Daniel's, and some of the descendants of Jasper Newton, the founder of Jack Daniel's, now work for Uncle Nearest.


Some say that Nathan "Nearest" Green's legacy was lost until more recent efforts to excavate, confirm, and share his contributions. It's certainly true that Green's status as the godfather of Tennessee whiskey wasn't discussed in media until recent years. Green was yet another shadowed figure, one vital to the development of something so broadly enjoyed today as Tennessee whiskey but largely unrecognized. I'd argue that doesn't mean Green's legacy was lost. In some ways, the success of Jack Daniel's and other Tennessee whiskey brands is his legacy. His impact remained whether we discussed it or not.


All of this flashes through my mind as I take in the tour. My impression of Uncle Nearest and their efforts at the Nearest Green Distillery crystallizes around these thoughts. I take in the innumerable small details -- engraved dates on buildings that coincide with significant dates in Nearest Green's life, symbolism ripe in every fixture and decoration, the intentionality the storytelling, even the hiring and inclusion of Green's descendants in the creation of this new whiskey product that has won so many awards.


As we take in the immaculate grounds and hear their plans for expansion, it's clear that part of the mission of Uncle Nearest is to ensure that Green's legacy will never again be obscured. That we will know and respect what he created. The intentionality makes for a really beautiful experience, one in which storytelling is at the forefront. It's an impressive project that has clearly taken an immense amount of capital, both financial and social, to put together.


It makes me wonder, how many other stories out there like Green's remain obscured? How many women, Indigenous folks, and others who we may never know about were instrumental in creating the reality we exist in today? I'd like to think that whether we recognize them or not, whether we know about them, their legacies live on around us today.

 

Video Description: This video, which was created and produced by Uncle Nearest, shows actor Jeffrey Wright narrating the story of Nathan "Nearest" Green, while walking through a historic farmhouse.


Note I did NOT create this video. I'm sharing it here in this manner rather than linking to it as the original video did not have captions. I've added captions to it here.

 

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