Honey Trapping Klansmen & Feeding the Poor: Nellie Jackson’s Forgotten Legacy

Nellie Jackson in her Rankin Street “boarding house,” 1980s.

Everyone loves a story about a hooker with a heart of gold. But have you heard the one about the madam into mutual aid and honey trapping white supremacists? As the kids say: It slaps.

Nellie Jackson was born the grandchild of freed slaves around 1902 in Mississippi, a draw which usually meant little education, even less money, and a lotta bullshit. She grew up in Possom Corner, which was less of a town than a small settlement outside some oil fields. By her 20s she’d married and fled to the nearest river city, which was Natchez, known primarily for stately antebellum mansions and poor wage slaves.

The area had no middle class.

After a divorce and some perilous years working “Under the Hill,” the rough section of Natchez known for generalized depravity, Nellie purchased a modest house on Rankin Street. She transformed the unassuming residential property it into a “boarding house”…one which just happened to house beautiful women exclusively.

Over the next two decades, Nellie’s slowly became one of the most popular brothels in the Deep South. Men literally lined the block for a chance to be granted access. Working girls from New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and New Orleans would take the train to Natchez just to work for Miss Nellie. Locals could pop their head into her large kitchen pretty much any day and find the madam standing over the stove herself, stirring some of the most delicious soul food within 50 miles. The establishment only served white men — something initially upsetting to members of Nellie’s community — but this was due to safety, not bigotry.

Natchez was a recruitment hot spot for the KKK and its unfortunate offshoot, The White Knights. A mixed-race brothel run by a black woman would have been burned to the ground in a place like Mississippi. By catering to white men, Nellie could protect her investment and girls. And, as it turned out, the practice eventually delivered priceless leverage into her modestly manicured hands.

See, white supremacists love fooling around with women of color. They wring hands about the horrors of “race mixing” during their costume parties and BBQs, and decry sex work as a tool of Satan. But when it’s time to get drunk and blow off…uh…”steam,” there’s ample documentation that they crave nothing more than forbidden fruit like Nellie’s deliciously diverse women. (Ask any sex worker of color about this phenomenon today and she’ll tell you nothing has changed.)

When the Civil Rights movement heated up in the 1960s, Nellie’s was frequented by more Klansmen, Knights, and White Citizen’s Council members than ever looking to fulfill their fetishes.

Fun Fact: Intoxicated men with blood pooled in their southern hemisphere are TERRIBLE at keeping secrets, especially when they’re trying to impress pretty women.

Which is why Nellie Jackson, middle-aged madam of color, was able to become a valuable informant for the FBI.

The bureau would fly a few stiffs in suits to Natchez several times a year, who would head to Miss Nellie’s private boudoir at 3am on a slow night. They’d lay down upon her red, satin bedspread…then remain full clothed and take notes as Nellie spilled every detail/plan the Klansmen and Knights let slip while under her roof. She never accepted a dime from the government in return. Business was doing so well she genuinely didn’t need it, and it kept her from owing an untrustworthy agency any “favors.”

Informing wasn’t all Nellie was up to in her free time. When black civil rights protestors were arrested and held in Natchez one October, a single persuasive phone call from Madam Jackson to the Sheriff got 200+ bodies released within a day. Miss Nellie bailed out anti-racists, in cash, herself. Her money also quietly funded food banks for battered women and orphans; bought cars for single moms and working men; supported the local church; and paid for countless bags of groceries or overdue utility bills all over town. Police officers, aldermen, and mayors often found themselves receiving bottles of brandy, home cooked meals, and cases of beer, delivered by Miss Nellie or her girls.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, in roughly 60 YEARS of operation Nellie Jackson’s brothel never endured a single effort from the city or community to close down, despite literally everyone in town knowing what her “boarding house” really was.

The unbelievable story of Nellie Jackson is even more fascinating — and ultimately shocking — than what was shared here. But we think it’s best told with sound effects, underscoring, and some flair. You can sign up for “Secret Story Time” over on Patreon to hear her whole amazing tale at: www.patreon.com/humanfuckery.

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Kimberly Kaye

Kimberly Kaye

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Chronically chilled F.M.H.C., research assistant, nutrition witch, and hEDS/CIPO patient. You can find more of my work at www.patreon.com/chronicallychill.