Everyone knows the folk song “Jimmy Crack Corn” from their early nursery rhyme days, but, like many songs sung by children for their lyrical ease and rhymes, the song alludes to one of history’s darker themes – slavery. Published in the 1840s during the height of slavery, the song was written with a subversive meaning.
Using a catchy melody, the singer explains that as a slave, he was tasked with protecting his master – and his master’s horse – from insects while outdoors. Although an alternate title for this song is “De Blue Tail Fly” indicating that this was probably the most problematic insect, it is thought that the singer is referring to a type of horsefly whose bite is quite painful. The singer is unsuccessful in safeguarding the master’s horse and the steed bucks, unseating his rider. The master is subsequently killed. The master’s death is ruled an accident due to the blue-tail fly and the slave is exonerated.
So, where does the “cracking corn” part come in? It just so happens, that the idiom “to crack corn” was old slang meaning to sit around idly gossiping. And variations of the name “Jim” was given to slaves. Therefore, the final lines of the chorus imply that with the demise of his master, Jim – the slave – was able to sit back and relax.
“Jim crack corn, I don’t care! Jim crack corn, I don’t care! For [master] me gave away.”