Spike lost $7,000 making the film, but he didn't care. He believes that King and Tyson had never really been heard, thanks to a white-dominated press. "The problem with Don King is that he's too powerful for people," Spike says. "People don't like his relationship with Mike Tyson because he's keeping Tyson's money away from the whites. The world is not set up that way. If you have talent, you're supposed to have a white agent, a white accountant and a white lawyer. King doesn't play by their rules."
Look who's talking.
Stiffed again. "No time," Spike says in the morning, rubbing his eyes. Your plane home goes wheels-up tomorrow. Six days into the story and you still don't really know what drives Spike Lee. There is only one thing left to do. The first day here, Spike reached into his desk drawer and gave you a book. He handled it as if it were the Hope diamond, but you'd never heard of it: Fallen Prince, by Donald P. Stone. "I have to have this back," Spike said.
You have a choice? You read.
You read about two lovers, Mike and Phoebe. Owned by different men in South Carolina, they were slaves who risked whippings to cross plantation lines and be together. They were married on Christmas Day, 1811, and eventually had seven children. As Phoebe was carrying their eighth, her owner yanked up stakes and moved to Alabama. Mike asked to be sold to Phoebe's owner but was denied. Mike and Phoebe were separated. And for slaves, separated usually meant forever.
After years of loneliness, Mike requested to buy his own freedom. The owner agreed, but for $1,900, a fortune for a slave who could make only cents a week working extra on his off-hours. Still, blister by blister, night by night, year by year, Mike worked until he became free. He set out searching for Phoebe in the Black Belt of Alabama, careful to avoid whites who might ignore his papers and return him to slavery. Finally, in May 1825, he arrived at a lightless slave quarters in Snow Hill, Ala., where he met Phoebe's eyes and opened his arms.
Mike and Phoebe stayed together another 40 years, he free, she enslaved. They had another three children. Sadly, Phoebe died a year before the South surrendered to the North and Alabama's slaves were freed, but she begot a huge and free family. Her fourth child, James Carmichael, fathered a fervently religious daughter, Martha Carmichael Edwards, who was known around western Alabama for her elegiac prayers. But she didn't change life for blacks in the South the way her crippled son did.
Nobody expected William James (Willie) Edwards to live, much less walk, but walk he did, despite an osteopathic infection and despite never having a pair of shoes as a child. And nobody expected him to bust his tail hard enough and long enough to come up with the $8 a month he needed to attend Booker T Washington's Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Ala., but he did, beginning in 1889. And nobody believed he could overcome his own sickliness and a stutter to become the class salutatorian in 1893, but he did. And nobody expected him to become a protégé of Washington's and to found one of the finest black schools of its time, the Snow Hill Institute in Snow Hill, but he did, in 1893. And when he did, even history wrote it down.
As he got older, Edwards had many grandchildren, but Bill Lee was perhaps most in awe of the great man. Driven, like Edwards, Bill became a great stand-up bass musician, eventually sitting in with stars like Billie Holliday, Sarah Vaughan and Duke Ellington. But Bill was as stubborn as any of his ancestors, and he refused to play the electric Fender bass. He would sooner starve. And he nearly did. Eventually, he found new fame as a composer and performer for films, thanks to a young director who believed in Bill as much as he believed in himself. Little guy in leopard-rimmed glasses. His son.