Black women have been using saws and other tools of the butchering trade for a long time. During slavery, Black women and Black men worked plantation and farm slaughterhouses, quartering livestock and cutting it into food for smoking, cooking and eating. Post-emancipation, Black women worked slaughterhouses as butchers. Charlotte Mansfield of Brooklyn (now known as Lovejoy), Illinois is one of the earliest (1910) documented Black female slaughterhouse butchers.
As a part of service duties, some made sausages and charcuterie for white butchers. Many of the Black women who grew up on livestock ranches learned how to cut up whole animals as a function of their chores. Black culinary historian and chef Thérèse Nelson said in an interview, referencing hog-killing season, “Normally the men would do the actual slaughtering, but it would be Black women who would do the breaking down and the butchering.”
Today, Black women are working as butchers and meat-cutters as far as Nigeria – a country that bustles with female meat industry tradespeople – to some grocery stores and specialty shoppes in the United States. Until 2019, Louisa Mathis with business partner and butcher Jullene Cunningham, owned and operated Arcadian Pastures Butcher Shoppe in Brooklyn, NY. (Jullene was featured on the History Channel’s The Butcher.)
Jullene Cunningham, Photo courtesy The Butcher, History Channel
Here are some Black women who butcher for business as well as provide food for their families.
Shayla or @darkbutcherbabe on Instagram works for a huge Atlanta grocery retail chain as a butcher. From her IG feed, we learn that she really loves being a butcher, and demonstrating cutting techniques. She also has a wicked sense of humor that shows up in the TikTok videos she posts. And the meat (post-butchering) is glorious.
Leslye (@leslyeas) is one of a team of women butchers at John Brown General & Butchery in Maryland. Leslye has incredible knife skills, which she demonstrates on Instagram but you can also see her handiwork as a charcutier (one who makes charcuterie meats).
Jem’ma Anduvate Ptáček (@jemmabelle11) is a culinary student and butcher’s apprentice in the Pacific Northwest. Her enthusiasm is palpable. Most people will probably be impressed with her knife skills on livestock, but her ability to clean fish is equally as impressive.
As non-traditional as the trade appears on the surface in 2021, it is a skilled trade that is much in demand and an integral part of the BBQ supply chain. And Black women have and continue to butcher for profit as well as provision.