Spike Lee’s Grandmother, Mother has Spelman College Building Dedicated

Spelman College honored Spike Lee’s family by renaming the College’s Admissions Office in honor of the well-known film director’s grandmother Zimmie Reatha Shelton (Class of 1929) and mother Jacquelyn Shelton Lee (Class of 1954). Lee and his wife Tonya Lewis Lee participated in the ceremony, along with Spelman College President Dr. Helene Gayle, faculty, students and staff.


“This is an honor that I’m here with Tonya, and it’s a great moment for the Lee family,” the Academy Award winning screenwriter explains. He then went on to breakdown his rich Spelman/Morehouse College lineage. “My grandmother went for four years of high school at Spelman, then four years of college, finished in 1929. My mother finished in 1954. My father was a freshmen when Martin Luther King, Jr. was a senior, and Martin Luther King lll and I were classmates, class of ‘79.”


Although the two women being honored are no longer living, Tonya told attendees that she knows that Ms. Zimmie and Ms. Jacquelyn are looking down from heaven, very proud and doing a jig in celebration.

“I think sometimes youth really think that everything started when they just got here,” says Tonya, regarding her family’s legacy. “I think it’s really wonderful to see these sepia toned images to remember that we are on a continuum. You’re picking up where someone else left off, and you got to run your relay, so when it’s your time to hand [the baton] off they can keep moving.”


Shortly after the renaming ceremony concluded, the Lee’s joined President Gayle for her inaugural broadcast of “Courageous Conversations: Black in the C-Suite.” The exclusive Spelman College speaker series was created to ensure stories of Black women in leadership are highlighted. This newest conversation was focused on the Lee family’s pathways to social and economic mobility, through health, wealth and education equity and the power of an HBCU education.


“’School Daze’ came out in 1988,” adds Spike. He then went on to explain his film’s contribution to inspiring Blacks to want to attend HBCUs. “Even to this day, people come up to me and say that film changed their life. Some never heard of Black schools, [didn’t] want to go to Black schools, and also give credit to Bill Cosby too with ‘A Different World.’ Those two things really brought a renaissance. And also this post-George Floyd era, there’s been another renaissance. Also the Vice President [Kamala Harris] coming from [Howard University].


The new edition of Courageous Conversations will soon be available on Spelman’s website.

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