Friday, April 30, 2010


Spike Lee explores his Georgia roots on tonight’s NBC show ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’

1:21 pm April 30, 2010, by Rodney Ho

Tonight, filmmaker Spike Lee will journey through the South to explore his ancestral roots on the NBC shot “Who Do You Think You Are?” And he digs through parts of Middle Georgia to find out.

The Morehouse College grad’s grandmother lived in Dublin, GA. In the first 10 minutes of the episode I screened, he goes down to Dublin and meets Atlanta University Center assistant archivist Melvin Collier at the Dublin library to get information about his great great grandmother Lucinda Jackson, who was born into slavery and died in 1934.

Collier, who said he spent eight hours with Lee that day, helped him find a newspaper obituary for Jackson, which named her three sons (including his great grandfather) but not Lucinda’s husband. He found the name on the death certificate, which was Mars.

He named his character in his first major film “She’s Gotta Have It” Mars, inspired by his grandmother, who died in 2006 at age 100. He recalled her saying that Mars was the name of a “crazy uncle” but “she probably said he was a crazy grandfather.” Mars in the film is crazy, he noted.

Lee then goes to the Georgia Archives in Atlanta to find more information about Mars, another man born as a slave. He found out they were using Woodall in the 1880 census, that he changed his name to Jackson later.

The archivist Lee was working with surmises that his family may have been owned by James Woodall, a slave owner. He eventually found out his great great grandfather Mars owned 80 acres after he was freed from slavery. (Lee calls his production company “40 Acres and a Mule,” a reference to providing arable land to former slaves after the Civil War.)

Lee shows up on the land Mars had owned. “Red Georgia clay,” Lee mused. “In tribute to Mars, I had sent to me what I wore in my first film, ‘She’s Gotta Have It.’ ”

“To go from a slave to a land owner?” Lee said. “Now I know where my family gets that entrepreneurial spirit!”

Lee later investigates his slave ancestors, discovering he may be a descendant of a slave owner. He meets a possible relative he didn’t expect to find.

“I always knew who I am,” he said. “Now I know more.”


Who Do You Think You Are? Featured Spike Lee Going South in the Season Finale

Published April 30, 2010 by: Roy A. Barnes

ho Do You Think You Are? featured Spike Lee on NBC on Friday night's season finale. The filmmaker-actor looked for his roots in Georgia and Texas, trying to find out more about his mother's slave ancestry. The filmmaker's mother, Jacqelyn Carroll Shelton Lee, died when Spike Lee was 19, and his grandmother Zimmie, known as "Momma", became the guiding force in his life as she put him through college, film school and helped him fund his first movie. "Momma" died in 2006. This episode of Who Do You Think You Are? was quite moving. The time frame goes back some 150 years, when people were owned by others.

Who Do You Think You Are? Featured Spike Lee Going South, Making Connections with the Georgia Earth

Spike Lee admitted that he regrets not being more inquisitive about his very distant roots, not putting "Momma" on camera to discuss this subject of ancestry. After visiting his mother's grave, he heads to Dublin, Georgia to find out more about his family roots. He found out about Zimmie's grandmother Lucinda, who had 3 kids with a man named Mars. Ironically, "Momma" gave Spike Lee the "Mars" name for a character in She's Gotta Have It. Through further research in Atlanta, it was found out on Who Do You Think You Are? that both Lucinda and Mars were slaves, owned by a man named James Woodall, of Twiggs County, Georgia. Yet the research at the Georgia State Archives found that Woodall's slaves weren't even specifically named in the slave census schedule, and only counted as 3/5 of a person.

Spike Lee was alerted about Mars Woodall (later surname Jackson) being listed as a farmer in the 1880 census, possibly because of the post-Civil War "40 acres and a mule" plan, which often wasn't implemented, according to the NBC season finale of Who Do You Think You Are? Further research found that Mars owned 80 acres of farmland and another 125 acres of various lands. The plantation owner James Woodall may have spoken well of his former slave, which helped him get land in a time and place where blacks were victims of hatred and prejudice in general. Who Do You Think You Are? saw Spike Lee visit his great great grandfather's land, a beautiful wooded area with water, dominated by red clay earth, which Spike Lee dug up some, feeling a connection with Mars, who mysteriously lost his land sometime after that census.

The Series Finale of Who Do You Think You Are? Featuring Spike Lee Brought Civil War History to the Forefront

As the show progressed, Spike Lee wanted to find out more about his great great grandmother Lucinda. He found out that her parents, Wilson and Matilda Griswold, took the name of their former owner Samuel Griswold, who owned a plantation in Griswoldville, Georgia, that's basically non-existent since it was destroyed by Union forces. It was determined that Matilda was a cook. Wilson was a skilled slave (who worked in a cotton gin factory and later a pistol factory for the Confederate Army) because he was mentioned by name in an old legal document, meaning he was valued highly. Later research on Who Do You Think You Are? showed that General William Tecumseh Sherman burned the plantation down and the and the factory, which Wilson worked at. Wilson may have been taken or killed by Sherman, but lots of questions remained unanswered on the NBC show.

Historian Bill Bragg showed the filmmaker-actor a Civil War era factory pistol that Wilson, Lee's great great great grandfather, may have actually help made. Bragg had one picture each of the slave-owning Samuel Griswold and his wife Louisa Griswold. The two looked very unhappy. As for Matilda, it was surmised through more research that Samuel was the father, as she was listed a "mulatto" in the records.

In the conclusion of Who Do You Think You Are?, Spike Lee got to meet a living being with Griswold blood, Guinevere Grier, in Arlington, Texas. They had a very nice and touching meeting, and were fine with apparently being 3rd cousins, twice removed. Grier revealed how much slavery and prejudice against blacks has hurt her. Spike Lee admitted that he can't love Samuel or Louisa Griswold because they owned other human beings, but he's more insightful about his family roots.

One of the strengths of this program on NBC is that it summarizes previous segments and lists the names of ancestors to help keep people from getting too confused. It was funny that Spike Lee had to slow down a bit and make sure he got all the "greats" in when talking about his distant grandparents.


"Spike Lee", Who Do You Think You Are? April 30, 2010, NBC