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?” 8 p.m. on NBC Friday