No, The Name 'Cracker Barrel' Isn't Racist

Controversy has been stirring around the name 'Cracker Barrel' for the last few years, with some, such as Twitter user DOMODADONN, alleging that the name is overtly racist.

The image, which was screenshotted from somewhere else, stated:

"Cracker was a slang term for whip. That's why blacks called whites crackers, from the crack of the whip. A cracker barrel is a barrel that held the whips for sale at the country store. You see the whip going from the R to the K? Racism in your face!!"

What's the truth of history and the implications behind the name "Cracker Barrel"?

History of Cracker Barrel

The first Cracker Barrel location was opened in Lebanon, Tennessee in 1969, by local oil jobber Danny Evins. From the first restaurant just off I-40, Cracker Barrel has always contained an elaborate gift shop, making the retail aspect a significant part of the experience from the beginning.

In the last sixty years, the lone restaurant has morphed into a chain with over 650 locations in 45 states. Over that time, the road-trip favorite has attracted millions of customers, and a cult-following to go along side with the coast-to-coast expansion. While the restaurant is known for it's down-home, country-style cooking, the attached store continues to be a massive draw for Cracker Barrel lovers.

What's In a Name

According to Mashed, the name Cracker Barrel is connected to two ideas. The first is the actual Merriam-Webster definition of "cracker-barrel," which means suggestive of the friendly homespun character of a country store. The first known use of the term was in 1916, more than fifty years prior to the first Cracker Barrel location opening. The gift shop was always a vital part of the brand, inviting customers to grab snacks on the road and skipping the fast food.

The second meaning behind the restaurant's name is connected with the barrels of soda crackers the chain would sell to hungry travelers. Now, however, this meaning is only reminiscent on the logo, which features a barrel. Bill Holley, a designer in Nashville, originally designed the logo. He sketched the first logo on a napkin according to the corporate website. The logo was created to remind customers of sitting on rocking chairs on the front porch.

Cracker Barrel Controversies

While the name 'Cracker Barrel' may not be inherently racist, that does not mean the chain has been without it's controversies in regards to civil rights and discrimination. In the 1990s Dan Evins, the founder and CEO placed an official company policy prohibiting the hiring of any individual whose "sexual preferences fail to demonstrate normal heterosexual values." The backlash was immediate, with shareholders such as the New York City Employee Retirement System threatening to vote out the entirety of upper management. The company quickly backpedaled, however, Evins still encouraged discriminating against females and minority employees. (Evins was stripped of his CEO and President title in July 2001.)

In May 2004, a filing with the U.S. Department of Justice alleged that Cracker Barrel employees at approximately 50 of the company's 500 locations (Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia) discriminated against Black customers. While the company settled out of court, according to the EEOC, Cracker Barrel had to pay more than $2 million in 2006 for alleged sexual and racial harassment and retaliation at three Illinois locations.

A More Inclusive Cracker Barrel

Since CEO Sandra Cochran took over the company in 2011, the company has made significant steps to build a more inclusive future at the retail-and-dining outpost.

In June 2019, in a dramatic turn from previous proclamations, the company released a strongly worded statement in support of LGBTQ+ rights. After refusing to allow a incendiary, Tennessee-based preacher to use Cracker Barrel as a meeting place, the company stated: "At Cracker Barrel, we work hard to foster a culture that is welcoming and inclusive — we have a zero-tolerance policy for discriminatory treatment or harassment of any sort," according to the associated press release. "We take pride in serving as a home away from home for all guests and in showing our communities and our country that the hospitality we practice is open to everyone."

Additionally, in late 2021, the corporation announced a new initiative called Cracker Barrel Food for Families, which focuses on addressing food insecurity and reducing food waste, all the while supporting local community needs. In partnership with Feeding America, the program is initially focused in "high-need rural and underserved minority communities."