FADE IN: THE SOUTH PAN DOWN from trees richly webbed with tentacles of Spanish moss to find a dusty country road cutting its swaying path through lush delta pasture land. SUPER: THE MISSISSIPPI DELTA 1946 A meadowlark sings out from atop a cattail somewhere and Clifton's NARRATION as a grown man begins: NARRATION Once upon a time -- not so long ago -- when southern plantations were plentiful... and cotton was king... and colored sharecroppers still dreamed... BEGIN OVERLAPPING SCENES of idyllic Southern landscapes. A blue, shimmering lake. A forest of flowering dogwoods. NARRATION ...small towns had designs on becoming grand southern ladies of commerce and prosperity... never forsaking the cherished and unchanged ideals of the Old South. Cypress trees sprouting from a mirror surfaced swamp. stately plantation house with white imposing columns.
NARRATION Glen Allan, Mississippi was such a place... And it was my home. Then come down out of a cloudless blue sky into: COTTON FIELDS spreading as far as the eye can see. And dozens of field hands bent over hoes, chopping cotton in the noonday sun. It's a quiet, peaceful scene until: A CHILD'S FEET (Sammy) run as fast as they can over the dirt furrows. MA PONK!
SAMMY'S VOICE MA PONK!
2 CU - MA PONK hears the cries and straightens her back from hoeing. Her lined, glistening face filling the frame. At 40, Elna "Ponk" Boose is a tall, thin yet sturdy woman, self-assured and imposing in all ways that matter. Sammy, 7-years-old, comes running up out of breath. SAMMY It's Mary! She hurtin' real bad! You better come! Ma Ponk mutters a worried prayer under her breath. her hoe. And runs.
MARY YOUNG is 15-years-old, in severe labor and lying in the black earth between cotton rows. She writhes and moans with the pain. A few hands have gathered around when Ma Ponk arrives and drops to her knees beside Mary. MA PONK Lay still chile. Gonna be all right now. Ma Ponk's here. Ma Ponk hovers over Mary, her wide-brimmed straw hat shading sun from the girl's face. Mary clutches her. MARY Hurts somethin' awful. MA PONK How long you been havin' the pains, honey? MARY Most all day. I thought it was jus too many hoecakes I ate this mornin'. Mary SCREAMS IN PAIN. smile.
And Ma Ponk flashes her huge, happy
MA PONK It ain't a hoecake, chile. It's your baby a comin'. Sammy, run get Miss Lottie, the midwife. Say Mary's baby's on the way! Run hard now! Hurry!
3 Sammy runs off.
Ma Ponk smiles down at Mary.
MA PONK Don't you worry, little girl. Havin' babies just as natural thing as breathin' air. SAMMY reaches the road just as an old field truck arrives. The STRAW BOSS, a white man in his 30's, leans out the window. STRAW BOSS Where you goin', boy? SAMMY To git Miss Lottie. We gonna have a baby in the field. Straw Boss leaps out of the truck with this news. And marches down the row to where the hands have collected around Mary and Ma Ponk. STRAW BOSS What in thunderation's going on here?! Y'all git back to work now. Go on! You're not gettin' paid to stan' around and gawk at somethin' none a your business anyhow. WILLIE JONES, 18, straightens up from the furrow he is hoeing and peers solemnly across at the band of colored hands dispersing back into the field while Mary lies on the ground moaning with the pain of childbirth. Straw Boss comes and stands over Ma Ponk whose frantic attention is focused on delivering a baby. STRAW BOSS Elna, why in God's sweet name this girl out in the field like this? MA PONK She two weeks early, Mr. Lester. We surely sorry 'bout this happenin' on your time. STRAW BOSS You don't think I'm payin' this girl for a whole day, do you?
4 MA PONK No suh. STRAW BOSS It ain't even twelve o'clock noon yet. And I ain't payin' you or that boy who run off for the time you an' him ain't worked neither. No suh. No suh.
MA PONK We don't s'pect you to.
All the while Ma Ponk is explaining things to Straw Boss, she's coaxing a baby out of Mary. And suddenly, the angry SQUALL of a newborn. Mary heaves one final gasp of relief. A huge smile fills Ma Ponk's face. And Straw Boss frowns down at A WET, WIGGLY BABY lying in the soft dirt while Ma Ponk ties the cord. STRAW BOSS Good gawd. I surely didn't need this today. MA PONK (smiles at Mary) Y'did fine, honey. Y'did real good! It's a boy. Mary smiles back.
WILLIE takes one more worried look at the event. stoops and goes back to his hoeing.
INT. POPPA'S HOUSE - NIGHT Sammy sits on his knees peering into a cradle where Mary's baby is wrapped in blankets. SAMMY He ain't got no hair. ain't got no hair?
How cum he
MA PEARL, 60's, gently reaches in and lifts the baby in her arms. MA PEARL I think the good Lord made him that way just so your grandpoppa could love him more.
5 She carries the baby across to where POPPA, 60's, sits rocking while he gazes fiercely into a fire. He is a big man. With a shaved smooth head and face that glisten in the glow of the fireplace. Ma Pearl holds the baby out to Poppa. He scowls. POPPA Pearl, I got no use for this baby. Fornication is a sin in the eyes of God. MA PEARL It surely is. But maybe you take jus one look at this little chile 'fore you condemn it to everlasting hellfire and damnation? Poppa, like a pouting child just keeps rocking and staring at the fire while Ma Pearl insists on holding the baby under his nose. Finally, Poppa chances one curious peek. Then another. And his scowl slowly melts into a tender smile. He gently takes the bundle in his arms. And his smile blooms into a broad toothy grin. POPPA He do look a bit like me, don't he? Bald head an' all. Poppa explodes into a big belly laugh. her eyes turn glassy in the firelight.
Ma Pearl smiles and
EXT. TENANT FARM - DAY Poppa's old Buick turns off the road and pulls up in front of a ramshackled tenant farmhouse. Poppa gets out of the car. Ma Pearl, cradling the baby, and Mary get out with him. They walk up to the porch where: MOSS JONES, a hard looking, worn out man is skinning squirrels. He is Willie's father. Jones peers at the visitors with a stern eye. Slowly rises to his feet and watches as Poppa, Ma Pearl and Mary stand in a line at the bottom of the porch. Poppa carries a Bible under his arm. POPPA Mr. Jones. JONES Elder Young.
6 POPPA I guess you know my wife, Pearl. And this here's our granddaughter, Mary. Jones' eyes go to Ma Pearl, slide over to Mary, then land back on Poppa. He takes out a plug of tobacco. Bites off a chew. Offers it to Poppa. Poppa steps forward, takes the plug, bites off a large chunk. Hands it back. POPPA Pearl and me's raised our granddaughter since she was a tiny thing. We brought her up in the way of the Lord. But that don't mean even the best of us don't stumble and fall back ever now and agin. So Mary... she done went and had this baby. But she didn't do it all alone by herself. Jones knows what Poppa is driving at and he's not going to make the road any smoother. He glares for a moment. Spits a stream of brown juice. Willie arrives at the corner of the house and stands there, unnoticed, to listen in on the conversation that will decide his fate. Poppa spits.
Then looks squarely up at Jones. POPPA Your boy Willie is the daddy of this baby. JONES I guess I don't know that for sure. POPPA Let me talk to your boy. JONES No reason.
Willie steps out from the corner of the house. WILLIE Daddy. That baby is mine, I reckon.
7 JONES (roaring) You don't know for sure, now jus hush yer mouth! (back to Poppa) Elder, we got nothin' more to talk 'bout! POPPA I come here to give your boy the chance to do right by this girl. JONES This here's a tenant farm. We don't hardly grow 'nough to keep a dog alive. Last thing we need is two more mouths eatin' what little we do got. Jones glances over at a shotgun leaning against a porch post. Back to Poppa. JONES That's all I got to say on the matter. Poppa is unafraid. But knows that his mission here has failed. He scowls for a beat. Then turns Ma Pearl, the baby and Mary back to the car. INT. POPPA'S KITCHEN - MORNING Mary is dressed for school and eating a hurried breakfast while Ma Pearl is busy at the sink. MA PEARL You best get a rush on, girl. gonna be late for school.
We HEAR the baby SQUALL out from the other room. leaps up.
MARY I'll see whut he wants. But Ma Pearl catches Mary and ushers her back to the table. MA PEARL You're gonna sit right down and finish your breakfast.
8 MARY But he's cryin', Mama Pearl. Whut if he's sick or somethin'? MA PEARL That baby jus hungry. I'll take care a him. You eat. Ma Pearl takes a bottle from the ice box to the stove to heat it in a pan of water. And Poppa enters carrying the crying baby. POPPA Men of the house sez it's time for breakfast. Mary jumps back up to fuss and play with the baby in Poppa's arms. MARY Mama, lemme stay home an' feed 'im. POPPA You're goin' to school, little girl. MARY Walk all that way everday... for whut? Someone CALLS FROM OUTSIDE. VOICE (O.S.) MARE-EEEE... POPPA So you don't have to spend your whole life in the fields, thas for whut. Ma Pearl grabs up Mary's books off the table. MA PEARL So git yerself to school and learn somethin'. Mary pouts at Poppa. Pulls her finger from the baby's curled fist. Gives him a kiss. MARY Bye, baby.
9 Ma Pearl thrusts her books at Mary. door muttering:
And Mary turns to the
MARY Darn ol' school. VOICE (O.S.) MARE-EEEEEE... Mary kicks the screen door open and exits. Leaving Poppa and Ma Pearl grinning and shaking their heads. EXT. POPPA'S HOUSE - DAY (SAME) Mary comes out of the house to join her friends. She steals one more look back at the house. Then they walk together to school along the road that cuts through the shanty section of Glen Allan known as colored town. A flatbed truck rolls BY filled with workers headed for the fields. Among them is Willie Jones. Mary and Willie catch each other's eye. Mary's face lights up. She smiles and waves. But Willie turns his eyes and pretends not to see her. EXT. POPPA'S HOUSE - MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT Dark and quiet. frogs.
Except for a symphony of crickets and tree
INT. BEDROOM - NIGHT Poppa is asleep in bed. Ma Pearl lies awake beside him. She HEARS the baby fretting in another room. She gets out of bed and exits to: MARY'S ROOM - NIGHT Ma Pearl enters and is surprised to find Mary missing from her bed. She picks up the baby and rocks him against her shoulder, humming gently in his ear. Then she hears WHISPERED VOICES. And goes to the bedroom door. Peeks out. INT. PARLOR - NIGHT Mary, in her night clothes, sits on the floor beside the window talking to Willie who stands outside. They hold hands through the window.
10 MARY I seen you on the road yest'day. I waved. But I guess you didn't see me. WILLIE I seen you, Mary. Only I's jus too sad to wave back. MARY Whut was y'sad about? WILLIE Cuz I put you in so much awful pain. MARY (a smile) Why, Willie. Chile pain is a nat'ral thing. Preacher say it's punishment for Eve givin' the apple to Adam. But it's okay. Pain goes right away soon's that baby comes out. Willie seems troubled.
Can't hold his eyes on Mary.
MARY He's a good baby, Willie. see 'im? She starts to get up. Pulls her back.
But Willie keeps hold of her hand.
WILLIE No. Not now. Got somethin' to tell you first. (beat) I'm leavin'. I'm runnin' 'way. Mary is heartbroken. She stares soulfully at Willie until he can't stand it any longer and drops his eyes. MARY Where you goin'? WILLIE North, I reckon. They got decent jobs in the North. Good wages. A man can be somebody up there's whut I hear.
11 MARY You have to go, Willie? WILLIE Whut is there here? I hold on to that hoe for s'long, it's like a part a me. Choppin' cotton. Pickin' cotton. Dear God, Mary, I rather die than end up like my daddy -- a man jus as dry an' dead as last year's cotton stalks. (beat) But I be back. Soon's I git a job. I come an' git ya. You an' that baby boy. I promise. MARY Don't promise, Willie. It'd be like a chain hangin' on to me. Mary's eyes fill with tears. Willie can't stand to see her cry. There's nothing more needs saying. And deep down they both know they'll never see each other again. Willie gazes at her, trying to imprint one last image on his mind. Then drops his eyes and disappears from the window. Mary sobs silently. And: Ma Pearl stands in the bedroom door. The baby asleep on her shoulder. A tear slides down her cheek. DISSOLVE TO: EXT. COLORED GROCERY STORE - PORCH - DAY - 1950 Three men sit in chairs on the porch reading magazines. Then PAN to MR. WILL trying to cut Cliff's hair while the four-year-old twists and squirms on the stool. Poppa lovingly coaxes him to sit still. MR. WILL You got a wiggler here, Elder. POPPA Git whut you can, Will. ask no more than that.
MR. WILL This boy sure got a fine head a hair. Yessir.
POPPA He take after me.
12 MR. WILL Whut you talkin' 'bout, Elder? You ain't got any hair! POPPA Only cuz I shave it off. But if I let it grow, it'd prob'ly look something 'bout like this. Poppa brushes shaving cream all over the top of his slick head and makes a funny face. Cliff laughs at Poppa and holds still just long enough for Mr. Will to make a few more snips with his clippers. NARRATION As I grew up, Poppa became more than my best friend. He was the center of my existence. EXT. COLORED GROCERY STORE - DAY A group of colored men is perpetually collected under a Chinaberry tree where they swap tales, chew tobacco and play dominoes. Poppa is among them, sitting on a crate, hunched over, studying his next move on the dominoes board. And beside him sits Cliff, pondering Poppa's move along with him. NARRATION My first experience with the world and all its countless wonders was most often at the knee of this man... EXT. LAKE WASHINGTON - DAY Poppa helps Cliff bait his fish hook. with her line in the lake.
Ma Pearl is nearby
NARRATION ...whom I was certain possessed all the knowledge there was to be had. INT. POPPA'S HOUSE - NIGHT It's Christmas Eve. A roaring fire. Festive decorations. And the house is filled with aunts, uncles and cousins. Clifton, is looking up in awe at a tree sitting on a table, decorated with one strand of lights, glass balls, and strings of popcorn and cranberries.
13 We hear a bellowing LAUGH and Cliff turns to find Poppa in the center of activity, pouring eggnog and enjoying the sight of children digging into bowls of hard candy and walnuts. He holds a sprig of mistletoe over Ma Pearl's head and kisses her to the delight of everyone. Cliff crosses to the fireplace to examine his stocking hanging from the mantel. Poppa comes, squats down and hands Cliff an orange. POPPA Here you are, Cliff. one special for you.
I saved this
Cliff throws his arms around Poppa's neck. And looks across the room to see Mary, now 19, in an intimate pose with a man named MOSES TAULBERT, 30. EXT. POPPA'S HOUSE - DAY It's a cold, wintry day. Mary, 19, stands on the porch, hugging her arms around her and looking forlorn as she watches Cliff playing on a tire swing in the front yard. Something is heavy on her mind. She hesitates. Then manufactures a smile and crosses to Cliff on the swing. MARY Hi, baby. Hi, Mama.
CLIFF Swing me.
Mary stoops down to Cliff. Pulls his coat up tight around his chin. And forces a happy smile. MARY I'll swing you, honey. Only first I got to tell you something... I'm gettin' married. To Moses Taulbert. Cliff looks at Mary with bright, alert eyes. MARY He's a good man. And he loves me. I know he does. Mary waits for a response.
But Cliff offers none.
14 MARY I got a job too. I'm goin' to be teaching school out at the Peru Plantation. Miss Sikes retirin' and they needin' somebody goin' to stay awhile. Can you imagine that, me a school teacher? Mary laughs and tickles Cliff causing him to laugh too. CLIFF I glad, Mama. MARY Are you, baby? I'm glad you're glad. Only... (growing solemn) I've got to tell you... I'll be movin' into Moses Taulbert's house after we're married. He lives over close to Miz Florence. You know where that is. (on Cliff's nod) Anyway, with me bein' s'busy teaching... Mama Pearl and Poppa and me... we thought it best you stay here an' live. Mary breaks off to let Cliff digest this for a moment. CLIFF Will I ever see you again? MARY Oh, honey, you'll see me everyday. I won't live so far. You can come see me anytime you like. But all the rest the time you'll still be livin' right here with your Mama Pearl and Poppa. That's the only difference. Slowly, a big, satisfied smile fills Cliff's face. CLIFF Swing me, Mama. Mary heaves a tiny sigh of relief. Hugs Cliff and kisses him. Then rises and begins to swing him. LAP TO:
15 EXT. POPPA'S HOUSE - SUMMER DAY Early Saturday morning. The screen door flies open and Cliff, 5-years-old, bolts out of the house and begins to wipe the windows of Poppa's car with a rag. INT. POPPA'S HOUSE CLOSE ANGLE as a straight razor is raked up and down a leather strop. We hear Poppa humming a gospel tune. EXT. POPPA'S CAR Cliff sweeps the floorboards of the car with a whisk broom. INT. POPPA'S HOUSE Poppa stands at the kitchen sink shaving his face and head while he HUMS his hymn. Cliff enters from outside and watches the ritual with fascination. And impatience. His eyes wander to the parlor and the mantel where a ceramic Buddha doll sits. Then back to Poppa where the comparison is unmistakable. And when Cliff can't stand the delay another second: CLIFF I washed the windows, Poppa. Poppa hums louder and nods his head in acknowledgement. CLIFF I dusted off the fenders and sweeped out the insides too. POPPA You a fine boy, Cliff. CLIFF I guess I 'bout ready to go to Greenville now. POPPA Uh-huh, I s'pect you are. Ma Pearl enters from the kitchen. Considerably more frail and delicate than when we last saw her. MA PEARL Cliff, how much money you got to spend?
16 Cliff digs some change out of his pocket. Holds it up to Ma Pearl's smiling face as she squats down and tucks his shirt into his pants. MA PEARL Well, why don't you go on out to the porch and count all that money till Poppa gets ready to go. Cliff relents. Drops his head and exits the door. Pearl smiles at Poppa. He laughs.
EXT. POPPA'S FRONT PORCH - DAY One dime, a nickel and four pennies lie on the porch boards while Cliff's finger moves the coins around into different patterns. Finally: The screen door opens and Cliff's head snaps up as Poppa emerges in all his glory. He wears his black suit and best white shirt. He chains his gold watch across his belly and drops it into his watch pocket. His smooth face and head shine like polished ebony. Ma Pearl comes out the door behind him with his hat. Poppa sets it on his head at a jaunty angle. POPPA Who's goin' to Greenville this fine day? Cliff leaps up from the porch steps. CLIFF I is. POPPA Then les git a move on. wastin'. Cliff races to the Buick. kiss.
Poppa gives Ma Pearl a hug and
POPPA Whut can I bring you back from Greenville, Mama? MA PEARL (adjusts his tie) I don't think there's one thing in that whole town I got to have. Jus take care of yourselves and come back safe.
17 Poppa smiles and steps down off the porch. He crosses to the car. Climbs in beside Cliff. Inserts the key. Turns it. Nothing. Poppa pumps the pedal. Turns the key again. Nothing. Cliff looks up at Poppa with worried eyes. Poppa sneers. Then climbs back out of the car. Lifts the hood. Tinkers for a minute. POPPA Slide over behind the wheel, Cliff. Turn that key for me. This is something Cliff has done on numerous occasions. He turns the key. And the engine roars to life. Poppa drops the hood. Clambers back into the car. POPPA You got to wee wee before we go? Cliff wags his head emphatically no. drives away.
The car backs out and
INT. CAR - DAY Poppa pilots his car slowly along the rutted old road through the colored section of town, acknowledging friends and neighbors he passes on the way. Spotting a man sitting on his porch and his wife working in her garden, Poppa taps his HORN and calls out: POPPA Mornin', Cape... Miss Bessie. The two people smile and wave back. Meanwhile, Cliff counts the coins in his hand over and over again. POPPA What's you gonna buy with your money, Cliff? CLIFF Frozen custard. POPPA Why, I'll buy you custard, boy. You use that money to buy something for yourself.
18 Poppa smiles down at Cliff. Cliff beams. And they drive on, Poppa waving and calling to folks they pass along the way. NARRATION All that I am or ever will be stemmed from growing up in that section of Glen Allan known as "colored town." EXT. COLORED GROCERY STORE - DAY The Buick rolls past the same old group of men gathered under the chinaberry tree. Poppa taps his horn and waves. And the group of tobacco chewers and domino players heartily wave back. And MR. WILL yells: MR. WILL Elder, hear the news? Joe Louis gonna fight agin. POPPA You are lyin' to me! The men shout back and forth some more as: NARRATION It was a community populated by a congregation of maids and domestics, field hands, teachers, farmers and preachers... Poppa drives on. NARRATION ...all colored and all set apart by the painful and humiliating barriers of racial segregation. But it was also a place where people nurtured and protected each other and did their best just to enjoy life together. EXT. UPTOWN - DAY Poppa's Buick turns off the old dirt road and rolls up onto a two lane blacktop. NARRATION Turning onto the paved surface of old Route Four... (MORE)
19 NARRATION (CONTâ€™D) and once across the railroad tracks, we had crossed an invisible boundary. For now we were uptown. EXT. MAIN STREET, GLEN ALLAN, MISS. - DAY The Buick drives slowly through the uptown business district which is clearly the "white section" of town. CLIFF (VO) Poppa, I got to pee pee. POPPA (VO) Now, Cliff, whut I ask you not ten minutes ago? CLIFF (VO) I didn't have to go then. The Buick rolls past a park surrounded by pretty houses with well-kept yards. INT. CAR Cliff can't take his eyes off the houses as the car passes by the park. Then: MISS ALICE, 20's, an attractive colored lady in a starched white cook's uniform comes out of Stein's Market. She is brassy, sexy and full of life. Poppa spots her and pulls to the curb. INT./EXT. CAR as Poppa leans out the window and calls: POPPA Mornin', Miss Alice. Alice comes to the car with two large grocery bags. in. ALICE Good mornin', Elder Young. (teasing) And who is this handsome gentleman accompanying you today?
20 POPPA Why, Miss Alice. You know my great grandson, Cliff. ALICE (gasping) Well, I declare! Clifton, you are growing into such a good looking boy. I jus bet you got all the girls chasin' after you something fierce. Cliff shakes his head no. ALICE How's Mama Pearl, Elder. feelin' any better?
POPPA The coughing been keepin her up some. But she doin' real good today. You sure got a armload a groceries, Miss Alice. We be glad to drive you over to the Freid's house. ALICE Thank you, but I ain't even done with my shopping yet. Miz Freid's having a party tonight. And I do believe everyone in this whole town's been invited. POPPA Thas funny. I don't remember gettin' my invitation. Poppa grins. And Miss Alice just shakes her head and bursts into howling laughter. ALICE And I don't suspect any white folks gonna be sending you one either. POPPA Good day, Miss Alice. Poppa drives away.
Miss Alice still laughing behind us.
CLIFF I got to pee pee, Poppa
21 POPPA We be out a town pretty soon. gonna have to wait.
EXT. STANDARD OIL GAS STATION - DAY (MOMENTS LATER) The Buick pulls in. The ATTENDANT, a redneck in his late 20's, spits out his snuff and wipes his mouth with a red calico handkerchief. BOB What can I git you, Elder? POPPA Dollar an' a half worth a regular, Mr. Bob, thank you. Bob goes to pump the gas. And Poppa gets out of the car. He lifts the hood and pulls out the dipstick. BOB How much longer you gonna drive this ol' heap, Elder? POPPA Till I have to shoot her, I reckon, Mr. Bob. Bob chews his cud and laughs at Poppa's joke. something happening o.s. BOB Hey, hey, hey, boy! goin'?
Poppa hears this and looks up from the motor to find Cliff just about to enter the "whites only" menâ€™s room. Poppa sees the problem and is embarrassed for Cliff. POPPA Sorry, Mr. Bob, it's my fault for not listening to the boy when he said he had to go. You don't s'pose maybe just this one time... BOB (wags his head) Now Elder, you know I cain't. Whut if word got around, it could hurt my business.
22 Poppa's jaw sets hard. He drops the car hood and walks calmly over to Cliff squirming by the menâ€™s room door. Squats down. POPPA Look up at that door, boy. See them words. Says whites only. CLIFF I cain't read, Poppa. POPPA I know that. But those is two words you better learn real quick. Now, c'mon. We be up by a field pretty soon. You jus hold it till then. Poppa takes Cliff's hand and leads him back to the car, his dignity and great pride apparent by his forceful bearing. He walks around to the other side, pays Bob his money, trying not to glare at him. And gets in. BOB Y'all going to the city to spend the money, huh, Elder? Well, don't git in no trouble. POPPA (flat) Much obliged to you, Mr. Bob. Poppa starts the car and drives out of the station. EXT. COTTON FIELD - DAY (MOMENTS LATER) WE'RE CLOSE ON CLIFF as a blessed look of utter relief spreads over his face while he relieves himself against a cotton plant. In the b.g. Poppa's car is parked on the shoulder of the road. INT. CAR - DAY Cliff is coming back to the car and zipping up. He crawls into the front seat and Poppa hands him a scrap of paper on which he as scrawled a large letter W. POPPA That's a W. First letter in the word, white. Learn it, boy. Cliff studies the letter.
23 POPPA Anytime you see it on a door or over a water fountain means you can't use it. For whites only what it says and what it means is you got to go 'round lookin' for one says colored. Cliff looks up at Poppa who starts the car and throws the stick into drive. Poppa pulls out onto the highway, glaring out at the road ahead of him, indignant by the injustice in life. A long silent moment. Then we are passing by the front of the Maybry mansion when suddenly a large black Dusenberg lurches backwards from the hedgeobscured driveway and into the road. It is driven by old MRS. MAYBRY. Poppa's eyes grow wide with panic and he throws the wheel to the right. The Buick dives off the road and slams to a stop in a shallow ditch. Poppa twists his head out his window to watch the Dusenberg shift into forward gear and streak off down the road toward town. Poppa shakes a fist and SHOUTS: POPPA Crazy ol' white woman! Where you learn to drive from, Sears catalog? But by now the Dusenberg is far down the road. EXT. GREENVILLE STREET - DAY We're following Poppa and Cliff down busy Washington Ave. Cliff eats a double scoop of frozen custard. And Poppa tears off pieces of a hot loaf of French bread until Cliff spots the five and dime store and darts across to the window. Poppa joins Cliff who is gazing wide-eyed. POPPA We best go in 'fore that money burns a hole in your pocket. And Poppa leads Cliff inside the store that to him is a treasure house of wonders. INT. DIME STORE - DAY (LATER) Cliff is just tall enough to peer over the edge of the long counters of cheap toys. He makes his way slowly past the yo-yos, water guns, Silly Putty and plastic army men;
24 until he comes to a section devoted to "magic slates." Remember the plastic flap you could draw on with a pointed stick, then lift it and the lines would "magically" disappear? Cliff is intrigued. He picks one up. Runs with it to Poppa who is browsing another part of the store. CLIFF Poppa, whas this do? Poppa demonstrates by making a mark on the slate, then lifting it to cause it to disappear. Cliff grins. EXT. SIDEWALK - DAY (LATER) Cliff and Poppa come down the sidewalk, Cliff clutching his magic slate. Cliff sees two water fountains ahead. CLIFF I thirsty, Poppa. Cliff runs up to the nearest fountain. But hesitates when he sees the word WHITES prominently displayed on a sign. His eyes move to the sign over the other fountain. COLOREDS. He again looks at the first sign and now recognizes the W. Cliff's face lights up and he jumps up on the stool to get a drink from the "colored" fountain. When he's through, he wipes his mouth on his sleeve and turns with a big, proud smile. CLIFF I do it right? But Poppa isn't smiling back. He stares solemnly down at Cliff, puts his big hand on the side of the boy's face and pulls him lovingly in beside his leg. Then with a simple nod and a sadness in his voice: POPPA Yes, son... you're learnin'. The poignant moment is broken by the single BEAT OF A DRUM. Then another. And Poppa sees folks starting to gather all up and down the sidewalks. Poppa steps to the curb. Looks down the street and his eyes fix steadily. Now Cliff comes up beside Poppa, peeks his head out to look down the street and see:
25 A band of white-sheeted KLANSMEN is marching up the street. The single drum beating a solemn cadence. Cliff is fascinated by the sight. He looks up to see Poppa's awful gaze. And as the marchers draw nearer, we see the lead man carrying a pole from which a stuffed dummy is hanging by a noose. A local COLORED MAN has come and stands next to Poppa. COLORED MAN They's hanging Mr. Hodding Carter in effigy. He's that crazy white newspaperman been writin' stuff 'bout equal rights for the coloreds. The man shakes his head slowly, never taking his eyes off the marchers. COLORED MAN Huh-uh, brother. That won't ever do. The marchers draw ever nearer. More people gather to watch. And the colored man shrinks back from the curb to hide in the crowd; as do many others. But Poppa does not move. He stands tall and erect on the very edge of the curb as the marchers move past. One of the marchers spots Poppa standing unafraid on the curb. The hooded Klansman comes up and roars in Poppa's face: KLANSMAN What you lookin' at, nigga! Poppa says nothing. Doesn't flinch. Cliff cranes his neck upward to the man in the tall pointed hood. KLANSMAN You deaf, nigga!? I talkin' to you! Answer me! Poppa just stares straight out as though the man wasn't there. All we can see are the man's bulging eyes through the holes but we know his face is turning red with fury. KLANSMAN You a real uppity sort, ain't you, boy?! Well, we got special things we do to take the uppity outta yo kind.
26 The Klansman keeps pushing in till he is nearly eyeball-toeyeball with Poppa. Cliff peeks out from around Poppa's legs. And suddenly, a SECOND KLANSMAN is on the first and hauling him away. SECOND KLANSMAN C'mon, Ed, not now. We'll take care a this'n another time. Cliff sees the pure hatred in the man's eyes as he is dragged back into the passing procession. Then he looks back up at Poppa who stands like a stone statue. INT. POPPA'S HOUSE - TIGHT ON CLIFF - DAY His big brown eyes are staring. A REVERSE ANGLE reveals Cliff standing in the bedroom door, watching Ma Pearl sleeping in her bed. The woman is softly wheezing with each short, labored breath. In a moment, Cliff turns away from the bedroom and crosses to the screen door. He looks out to see: Poppa and DR. DUKE, a white man in his fifties, are talking seriously in the front yard. EXT. POPPA'S PORCH - TIGHT ON SLATE - NIGHT A big letter W has been drawn on Cliff's magic slate. Cliff lifts the plastic to make the markings disappear. Then: ANOTHER ANGLE reveals Cliff sitting on the porch steps with the slate on his knees, practicing the letter W. Poppa appears at the screen door behind him. He opens the door. And Cliff's head snaps around to watch Poppa come outside and drop heavily into his rocking chair. Cliff gets up from the steps. Climbs up into Poppa's lap. Puts his arms around Poppa's neck and lays his head in the big man's shoulder. The old man and boy sit rocking in this position for the longest time. Then, gently: POPPA Ya Mama Pearl's feelin' poorly, son... She cain't take care of us no more way she used to... She goin' be needin' me take care a her from now on.
27 CLIFF I hep you, Poppa. Poppa's heart is stabbed.
POPPA I know you like to, boy. But you needin' someone take care a you... Ya own Mama Mary, her and Moses Taulbert... they gots a baby and another on the way. That don't leave a whole lot a room for you... But your great auntie Ponk... she got her house all to herself now... She say she be mighty grateful you come and take care a her awhile. Cliff thinks on this a long time. as:
Never moving a muscle
LONG SHOT Poppa sits rocking in his chair with Cliff clinging to him. And the biggest moon you've ever seen hangs directly over Poppa's house. LONG DISSOLVE TO: EXT. MA PONK'S CHICKEN COOPS - MORNING The chickens are squawking and batting their wings. And then we see why. Cliff, barefoot and wearing pajamas throws handfuls of feed at them. Excited and in a hurry to finish his chores, he grabs up a pail and races to the trough to slop Ma Ponk's two big sows when: MA PONK, 45, comes out the screened porch of her house. MA PONK Cliff! What in heaven's name's got into you! Outside in yo bare feet and pajamas! Cliff drops the pail and comes running out of breath. CLIFF I couldn't find my new school clothes. I look in all a my drawers and couldn't find 'em nowhere.
28 MA PONK Thas cause I ironed 'em up last night. They's all laid out on my bed. Cliff flies past Ma Ponk, through the screen door and into the house. Ma Ponk smiles that big loveable grin of hers and shakes her head. INT. MA PONK'S BEDROOM - DAY (SAME) Cliff runs in and stops suddenly short at the sight of his clothes carefully laid out on Ma Ponk's bed. NARRATION I remember my first day of school and how excited I was. All my life I had watched the older children make the daily journey down our old road to the colored school where Miss Maxey dispensed her wisdom and knowledge... Today, I would join them. Alongside Cliff's new blue jeans and shirt is a pair of ugly brown knee-high stockings and flannel long johns. Cliff is stunned and embarrassed. He picks up one of the stockings. Frowns disdainfully. Then he sees the pair of new shoes on the floor beside the bed. Picks them up. The dreaded and old fashioned high tops. NARRATION My great-aunt whom I called Ma Ponk, had taken over the responsibility of raising me. Her own two sons were grown and moved away. And now I was the child in her life she was determined to keep warm... irregardless of the temperature outside. INT. MA PONK'S KITCHEN - DAY (MOMENTS LATER) CLEVE MORMON, the iceman, a large, robust man in his 50's is putting a block of ice in the ice box and chatting with Ma Ponk. CLEVE Gettin' harder to sell ice every year. (MORE)
29 CLEAVE (CONTâ€™D) Some a the white folks even got 'frigerators now days, makes they own ice. But thas just progress, I guess. MA PONK Well, I wouldn't worry s'much, Cleve. Nobody I know got a 'frigerator or even thinking 'bout it. Cliff races in, dressed for school, and heads straight for the back door. Til Ma Ponk catches him. MA PONK Hold on, Cliff, right there. CLIFF Ma Ponk, I gots to go to school. Ma Ponk squats down to pull the socks Cliff had rolled down into his high tops, back up to his flannel-clad knees. MA PONK You keep these socks rolled up now, heah? They don't do you one bit a good all wadded up in your shoes. CLIFF Ma Ponk, I gots to go now! Cleve shoots Cliff a big, toothy smile. CLEVE I bet this is your very first day a school, ain't it? Cliff nods vigorously. CLEVE Well, you study hard now, go all the way. Learn to draw buildings or be a doctor. You can be anythings you wants to. And just remember... ain't nothin' to field work... (shakes his head solemnly) Ain't nothin a'tall!
30 Cliff looks at the man, taking the advice to heart. And Ma Ponk drops a green corduroy cap on his head, pulls the flaps down over his ears and buckles the strap securely under his chin during: MA PONK Don't sass Miss Maxey. Don't leave the school yard. Don't be cuttin' up in your seat. And come straight home after school is out. CLIFF Yes'm. And Cliff flies out the door carrying his tablet and molasses bucket containing his lunch. EXT. COLORED SCHOOLHOUSE - DAY An old, dilapidated one room building. Children are playing in the yard before school begins when Cliff runs up the road and heads for the door. He is intercepted by two older boys, CLARENCE and HENRY, 12-years-old. Bullies. CLARENCE Looka the shrimp! HENRY Where you think you're goin', litter runt? CLIFF Goin' to school. HENRY You cain't go to school. a baby.
CLIFF I five years old. CLARENCE Thas a swell hat, shrimp. Whas the flaps down for, to keep the bugs outta yo ears? HENRY Looka wha he's wearin'. flannels on. CLARENCE An' high top shoes too.
31 The two boys HOOT and LAUGH at Cliff who tries desperately to ignore them and get past. But they won't let him. HENRY Maybe we let 'im in if he give us somethin'. And Henry snatches Cliff's molasses pail out of his hand. CLIFF Gimme that! HENRY Les jus see whas we got in here. Might be somethin' I want. Cliff is stabbing at the bucket but Henry holds it high out of his reach and opens it. HENRY Flap jacks and potted ham. Clarence, you want some? CLARENCE Sure I do. CLIFF Gimme it! The two boys divide up Cliff's lunch as Cliff kicks and punches futilely. Then: SAMMY (O.S.) Give it back. The two bullies stop and look at the boy who has just arrived. He is Cliff's uncle Sammy, 12-years-old, whom we first met in the cotton field on the day Cliff was born. HENRY We just havin' fun, Sammy. we give you some too.
Sammy is a quiet, serious type who generally means what he says. The other boys respect him. SAMMY How you boys like it someone bigger come 'long and take whut belongs to you? Give it back.
32 The two bullies hesitate only a moment before deciding not to tangle with Sammy. They put Cliff's food back in the pail. Drop it on the ground. CLARENCE C'mon, Henry. The two boys scurry inside the building. his pail.
Cliff picks up
CLIFF Thanks, Uncle Sammy. Sammy reaches down, unsnaps Cliff's hat, pulls it off his head and hands it to him. SAMMY Hide this somewheres. And roll your flannel sleeves up above your elbows so they won't show. Cliff quickly complies. CLIFF Like this? Sammy looks down at Cliff. Thas good.
Sort of a smile.
SAMMY You be awright now.
Cliff smiles back. And stands a little straighter as he follows Sammy into the building. INT. COLORED SCHOOLHOUSE - DAY packed with children, grades 1-8. NARRATION The first years of my education were conducted in a one room schoolhouse. OVER THE SHOULDER of a child we see a reader lying open on a desk. Dick and Jane and their little sister Sally. A perfect, lily-white family whose lives bear little or no resemblance to the lives of these children. Then: MISS MAXEY is writing names on the blackboard. George Washington Carver, Mary McLeod Bethune, Marian Anderson and Jackie Robinson.
33 NARRATION Miss Maxey taught all of the grades, one through eight. And in that room... PAN THE EAGER FACES of children, ages five to thirteen, all intent on the teacher, while: NARRATION ...children of illiterate farmers, dirt poor field workers, maids and servants came to learn all the wonders that an education offered us... and we were continually motivated to be the best colored people we could be. COME TO CLIFF sitting with the other first and second graders. His Big Chief tablet lies on his wooden desk in front of him. His rapt attention is on the teacher. NARRATION To help us in that pursuit, we were forever reminded of four great colored Americans. ANGLE TO INCLUDE Miss Maxey speaking MOS to the class. NARRATION And the lives of George Washington Carver, Mary McLeod Bethune, Marian Anderson and Jackie Robinson became the subjects of countless essays and reports. Miss Maxey calls Sammy to the front of the class. Sammy unfolds a piece of tablet paper and begins to read aloud: SAMMY Jackie Roosevelt Robinson was born in Cairo, Georgia in 1919. He was the first Negro... As Sammy continues, he is overridden by: NARRATION I would be a grown man before I fully realized that these four people, though they were great trailblazers, by no means represented the sum total of colored achievement.
34 INT. POPPA'S HOUSE - NIGHT The house is packed with people. An air of anticipation and excitement is unmistakable as all are gathered around the radio sitting on a table in the center of the room. NARRATION But by most accounts, the Big Four had one missing. There were really five great colored Americans. RADIO ANNOUNCER And his opponent, weighing twooh-seven, wearing purple trunks, the internationally famous Detroit Brown Bomber... Among the group we find Ma Ponk, Ma Pearl, Sammy, Mr. Will and Preacher Hurn, 60's. Poppa sits in a place of honor in a rocking chair. And Cliff is on his lap. RADIO ANNOUNCER Always a great credit to his chosen profession and the race he represents, the former heavyweight champion of the world... Joooooe Louis!... The assemblage leaps to its feet and lets out a ROARING cheer. "Give it to 'im, Joe!" "Show 'em what you got, Joe!" "We love you, Joe!" The bell RINGS. The fight begins. And excitement builds to fever pitch with everyone YELLING encouragement to Joe as though he could hear it through the radio. Poppa jumps and bounces around wildly as he punches the air. And Cliff sitting on Poppa's knees is nearly shaken off. LAP TO: SAME SCENE (LATER) The fifth might win house are continues
round. Joe is landing some punches. He just this bout. And the people gathered in Ma Ponk's delirious with anticipation. The CHEERING unabated despite the hoarse throats. LAP TO:
35 SAME SCENE (LATER) Sixth round. Joe is starting to lose his legs. He takes a couple of hard jabs to the body and is staggered. The audience in Ma Ponk's parlor gasps and cringes collectively. A tiny moment of alarm. The unthinkable flashes through every mind. Joe might lose. But then Joe counters with a strong right hook and the alarm quickly passes. "At's it, Joe!" "Take it to 'im, Joe!" "You're de man, Joe!" LAP TO: SAME SCENE (LATER) Eighth round. Cliff is curled up asleep on the hooked rug by the fireplace while the crowd cheers Joe on. A sudden left hook by Marciano floors Joe. And that dreaded fear sweeps through us again. Some of the men leap to their feet. "Get up, Joe!" And Cliff is awaken by the sudden shout. Joe staggers to his feet on the count nervous relief falls over the crowd. all over Joe and has him on the ropes punches. A looping right catches Joe him through the ropes.
of eight. And But then Marciano is in a flurry of in the neck and sends
RADIO Joe's down! He's under the ropes! He won't be getting up from this one. And the referee stops the fight! It's over, ladies and gentleman! Marciano wins by a knockout! Though the radio is blaring with crowd noise, no one in the room makes a sound. Heads are hung over drooping shoulders. Eyes fill with tears. Cliff looks up at Poppa and finds him choking back a sob. A terrible pall hangs over the room. Until finally, one by one people get up and start moving to the door. After murmuring thanks to Ma Pearl for having them over, they straggle out. NARRATION Colored folks had so few heroes, we took it real hard when one of them failed.
36 Cliff comes to his feet and stands beside Poppa's chair, watching the man just gazing into the fire. NARRATION They say even Marciano cried for Joe after the fight. But nowhere could you find more grief and sorrow in the world, than was in our house the night Joe Louis fell in the eighth round. DISSOLVE TO: INT. MA PONK'S HOUSE - NIGHT It's the chilly pre-dawn hours. And Cliff is asleep on his cot in the parlor when a light snaps on. Ma Ponk comes and stands over Cliff wearing her robe. Gently shakes him awake. MA PONK Wake up, Cliff, honey. git up and movin'.
Cliff squirms into painful consciousness. MA PONK Go empty the pots an' feed the chickens while I starts a fire... Now c'mon. Mr. Walter won't be waitin' for us if we not ready. Cliff reluctantly crawls out of his warm cot wearing his long flannels. He mechanically staggers into Ma Ponk's room and slides the chamber pot out from under her bed. EXT. MA PONK'S HOUSE - PREDAWN Cliff and Ma Ponk stand by the gate in the morning gloom as a large, flatbed truck rolls up the road. It stops periodically to let on passengers. Men, women and children. The truck pulls up beside Cliff and Ma Ponk. MR. WALTER, a colored man in his forties, is the driver. He leans his head out the window. MR. WALTER Mornin', Miz Elna. Why don't you come ride up front here.
37 MA PONK Thank ya, Mr. Walter. Ma Ponk leads Cliff to the back of the truck. Lifts him up onto the flatbed where other workers are sitting or slumped half asleep against the wooden rails. Ma Ponk climbs into the cab of the truck and it rolls away. EXT. RIDING ON THE FLATBED Cliff crawls around the bodies to Sammy who seems to be asleep against the back of the cab, his hands in his pockets, his neck scrunched down in the collar of his coat. CLIFF Hi, Uncle Sammy. SAMMY Hush up and settle down now. tryin' to sleep.
Cliff props himself up next to Sammy. Looks around at the quiet passengers trying to stay warm in the morning chill. The group seems content to bounce along silently on the road. One of the workers, COOTER MAN, a tall, lanky fellow in his thirties is hunched against the rails opposite Cliff. INT. TRUCK CAB - SAME Mr. Walter and Ma Ponk ride together. MR. WALTER You seem 'specially chipper this morning, Miz Elna. MA PONK I feelin' that way, Mr. Walter. My son Melvin comin' home to visit today. MR. WALTER I remember Melvin. My lord, how long it been now since he gone 'way? MA PONK Almost ten years since I seen him. He livin' up in Detroit now.
38 MR. WALTER Well you tell him Mr. Walter say hello. EXT. COLORED SCHOOLHOUSE - PREDAWN The truck passes by.
And rolls on down the road to:
EXT. COTTON FIELD - SUNRISE Mr. Walter's truck pulls up on the turnout road. The workers slowly climb down off the bed, pull sack straps over their shoulders and move out into the fields. COOTER MAN See y'all at the end. Cooter Man straddles a row and starts snapping bolls; arms and elbows flying testify to his acclaim as a legendary picker. Sammy and Cliff drop off the end of the truck. And Sammy schlepps dispiritedly out into the field. Ma Ponk joins Cliff behind the truck. MA PONK Stick close by me, baby. Les git much of this dew cotton's we can. CLIFF But my fingers get wet an' cold. MA PONK I know they do. But wet cotton's heavier in the sack. And we gits paid more. Ma Ponk and Cliff start to work. We PULL BACK. And in the pink glow of early morning, we see more trucks all up and down the road unloading workers who start to spread out into the fields. LAP TO: EXT. COTTON FIELD - DAY A warm afternoon. Ma Ponk works alongside her sister, AUNT LURLEAN, and her best friend, MISS DOLL. They are laughing and gossiping while their hands maintain constant motion plucking the cotton from their bursting bolls.
39 LURLEAN Laziest man ever drew breath. DOLL Watch yourself, girl. LURLEAN Doll, it's so. I seen you myself puttin' butter on his biscuit. DOLL It don't hurt to do for a man. Maybe you been more 'tentive to Tom, he still be 'round for you to bake biscuits for. LURLEAN Hmph. I'd soon be 'lone than to wait hand an' foot on a man like you do Jim. DOLL You know he got the artheritis in his ankles. Tell her, Ponk. Jim cain't hardly even stand up no more. MA PONK Oh hush, both a you. I don't want hear no more 'bout Mr. Jim's ankles or who butters his biscuits. I rather hear 'bout that fight broke out in Gatson's Cafe Sat'day night. LURLEAN Well, what so special 'bout a fight in a juke joint? DOLL When they fightin' over Alice Faye Baylor, it somethin' special awright. LURLEAN Who fightin' over Alice Baylor? DOLL Two big men from Greenville. One of 'em was high yaller. Almost white as she is.
40 LURLEAN Well it serve Alice right, hangin' 'round a place like that anyhow. Doll spots the Straw Boss coming their way. DOLL I caution y'all hush up. comin'.
The three women grow immediately quiet and bear down in their work when Straw Boss arrives. He dries the band of his hat with his handkerchief and studies the clouds as he speaks. STRAW BOSS How you girls doin' today? The women all mutter at once, "We's doin' good." "Jus fine, Mr. Lester." "We jus fine, Mr. Lester, thank ya." STRAW BOSS Think we gonna have us a crop this year, Elna? MA PONK Oh yes suh. DOLL I jus tellin' the girls how you sho brought in a good crop this year, Mr. Lester. STRAW BOSS Yeah, we did good, I'd say. Sure did... Well, I won't pester you girls no more. I got to git. Straw Boss moves off. And when he is gone, the women relax and raise up. Their cheerful smiles quickly fading into scowls. LURLEAN (mocking) 'We did good, I'd say,' he say. Like it was him who done the work. DOLL I never seen him pick one boll a cotton. Or draw a single drop a sweat over a weed.
41 LURLEAN He jus a redneck trying to be a white man. Thas all. Ma Ponk just chuckles.
And goes back to work.
ANOTHER ANGLE - THE FIELD Sammy halfheartedly picks cotton. And Cliff is coming along behind picking what he misses, which is considerable. Cliff hears a car coming down the road. He looks up in eager expectation. But it's just an old truck. And Cliff is disappointed. He goes back to his picking. Then: COOTER MAN (O.S.) Hey there, boy. I seen you snappin' them bolls. You gots to pick the cotton out. Cliff and Sammy turn to find Cooter Man working his way back down the next row. He is talking to Sammy. Sammy, we suspect, resents having to pick cotton at all and grows surly at the slightest provocation. SAMMY Guess I oughta know how. pickin' it all my life.
COOTER MAN Oughta know by now nots to fill yo sack with bolls and scraps. STRAW BOSS (O.S.) Hey there, Cooter Man. Cooter Man, Sammy and Cliff turn to find Straw Boss coming down the row. COOTER MAN Afternoon, Boss. STRAW BOSS You gonna gimme four hunerd pounds today? COOTER MAN I workin' on it, Boss. I try my hardest. Straw Boss grins and rubs Cliff's head.
42 STRAW BOSS You Elna's boy, ain't ya? CLIFF Yes suh. Straw Boss casually looks into Cliff's sack. his job.
STRAW BOSS You keep at it, boy, an' someday you be 'nother Cooter Man. What's you think, Cooter? COOTER MAN Could be, Boss. Sure 'nough could. During all this, Sammy has kept his head down and picking, hoping to escape the notice of the boss. But no such luck. Straw Boss comes up beside Sammy, reaches in and pulls a handful of cotton from his sack. Doesn't like what he finds. STRAW BOSS Lots a scrap in this sack, boy. SAMMY (barely audible) Sorry, Mr. Lester. STRAW BOSS Sorry don't feed the bulldog. We payin' you good money for a day's work and we expectin' a full day's work. Sammy's eyes are rooted to the ground. We can feel him doing a slow burn. Seething with anger and resentment. STRAW BOSS I got a mind to send you home right now without no pay. I could do it too, I got the right... I find anymore scrap in yo bag, you through workin' my fields agin, that clear? Sammy slowly nods yes. Straw Boss glares at him for emphasis. Then turns to walk away. He gets only ten yards when Sammy mutters:
43 SAMMY Thought Lincoln freed the slaves. STRAW BOSS (turns back) You say somethin', boy? You sassin' me? Sammy makes no response. breaths. Then finally:
Cliff and Cooter Man hold their SAMMY
No... suh. Straw Boss stares a moment longer. Then marches off, Sammy glaring after him with hooded, brooding eyes. And at that moment, Cliff sees: A cab flies down the road past the field. with excitement. Bolts off in a run.
Cliff lights up
MA PONK continues to work when she HEARS: MA PONK!
CLIFF (O.S.) MA PONK!
Ma Ponk raises up and turns to see Cliff running as fast as he can. CLIFF I seen the yella cab! come!
Ma Ponk's head snaps to the road to see the cab running off toward town. Her heart leaps into her throat. Tears spring and flow wide around her nose. And at this moment, she is the happiest woman alive. EXT. MA PONK'S HOUSE - DUSK Mr. Walter's truck comes down the old road returning workers to their homes. It stops in front of Ma Ponk's house. Ma Ponk scrambles out of the cab of the truck and looks anxiously to the house. Rising from a chair on the front porch is MELVIN, late twenties. Ma Ponk throws her hands over her mouth. Then lets out a SHRIEK and goes flying through the gate. Melvin meets her halfway across the yard and catches her in a huge, happy hug.
44 Cliff drops down off the truck and watches the tearful reunion with a smile. Sammy stands up on the truck bed next to the rails to get a better look at this mysterious relative from the north. Mr. Walter smiles and rubs a tear out of his eye. And rumbles away. HOLD Cliff watching Ma Ponk clasping and blubbering over Melvin, making the biggest fuss you can imagine. INT. MA PONK'S KITCHEN - THAT NIGHT Melvin sits at the table gorging himself while Ma Ponk flits around the room dishing up ever more food for her prodigal son and for Cliff who is enjoying his uncle's visit. Melvin is far different from the local men Cliff knows. He's citified. Slicked down hair and fashionable clothes. He even talks differently. And there's a wayward charm and easy confidence about him that attracts Cliff and everyone else. MA PONK Here now. Has some more a these string beans an' hocks an' don't talk back. MELVIN Oh, Mama, I cain't. I eat even one more bean I lible explode all over this place! Melvin opens his eyes wide and inflates his cheeks in a gesture for Cliff. Cliff giggles. MELVIN I will take s'more a this cornbread though. Is that a swee' potata pie I see over on the stove? MA PONK What otha kind a pie I ever make for you but swee' potata? But you go on finish eatin' ya supper first. I just worry you don't eat good with nobody cookin' for you. MELVIN I eat fine, Mama. You stop worryin'.
45 MA PONK I gonna worry. It git unnat'ral cold in Detroit. I hope you knows how to dress for the winter up there. MELVIN I dress jus fine, Mama, ya 'ol worrywart, anyhow. MA PONK An' don't go call me names. Ma Ponk has momentarily turned to the stove. across the table and whispers to Cliff:
MELVIN She keep you wrapped up tight as a catapillar in a cocoon too? Cliff lifts his shirt to reveal his long johns. And Ma Ponk turns from the stove at that instant to catch it. MA PONK I heard whut ya said. An' it's awright I keeps that baby warm. You don't see he got the pleurisy, do ya? MELVIN Nooo, Mama. He ain't ever gone git the pleurisy long as you 'round. MA PONK Eat s'more a these greens. MELVIN Lord, Mama, I don't want another bite 'cept for a slice a your swee' potata pie. MA PONK Shame you ain't got someone cookin' pie for you up north. Ain't you even got a girl in Detroit? No, ma'am. awright.
MELVIN But I gots a girl
46 Melvin reaches out with a long arm around Ma Ponk's waist and hauls her onto his lap. MELVIN Only she livin' right down here in Miss'ippi. Ma Ponk squeals with laughter and struggles to free herself. MA PONK Oh gone now! You jus the ter'blest thing. Melvin howls with laughter. And Cliff is enjoying the cutting up immensely. We begin to HEAR SINGING VOICES. An old gospel sung by a heavenly host. "Some glad morning, some glad day, I'll fly away..." HOLD Ma Ponk's radiant face until: INT. BAPTIST CHURCH - SUNDAY MORNING Not a host of angels after all. But a Baptist choir belting out a roof rattling gospel song. Preacher Hurn stands beside his pulpit, clapping his hands and stomping a foot. Poppa stands alongside the elder's bench. And: ANOTHER ANGLE reveals the entire, all-colored congregation on their feet, clapping, stomping and providing the chorus to the song. Among them, Ma Ponk, as a member of the mother's Board, wears a starched white dress, white shoes and her head is wrapped in a white scarf. She is particularly moved by the Spirit this morning and sings mightily. Standing beside her is Melvin, clapping, grinning and singing. Beside Melvin is Cliff. And next to Cliff, a frail Ma Pearl is wobbly on her legs but, nevertheless, clapping spiritedly with the music. We should see young ladies of the congregation taking quick peeks at Melvin; this handsome stranger from the north. But Melvin's eyes are cast elsewhere. On Miss Alice, who stands across the aisle, singing and paying Melvin no attention at all. By design. Preacher Hurn mounts his pulpit and begins to preach over the singing:
47 PREACHER HURN (loud and forceful) Some glad mornin'... some glad day... I'll fly 'way! Yessir! Yes, brothers and sisters! We are like shining stars in the blackness of a dark universe. An' jus like Jesus who was the light of the world, we are his candles to shine and light the way on a dark and lonely plain. But when our work on this earth is done... on that bright an' shining morn, God gonna call us home. An' we all gone flyyy, fly 'way... EXT. MA PONK'S HOUSE - SUNDAY AFTERNOON A fire has been built in the front yard. A grate sits over the fire and six big iron skillets are frying catfish. Ma Ponk is clearly in charge and taking great delight in issuing orders to Aunt Lurlean, Miss Doll and other ladies involved in the preparations. People help themselves at a long table piled high with fixin's. Washtubs are filled with ice cold bottles of Pabst Blue Ribbon and Jax beer. And some men, led by Preacher Hurn, are cranking ice cream freezers. A WIDER ANGLE discloses the front a park where dozens of folks have Cars and trucks are parked all up pickup truck arrives and six more the festivities.
yard has been turned into gathered for the event. and down the road. A people climb out and join
Cliff, his cousin BOBBY, 5-years-old, and other children their age run wild through the scene. Bobby leads the charge waving an American flag high overhead. But they stop to scoop up chunks of ice from the washtubs and Bobby drops the flag on the ground. Mr. Will stoops down and picks it up. MR. WILL (stern) Don't y'all let this flag tetch the ground like that. This here white man's flag? White folks set a lot in store in this flag an' don't like to see no one messin' with it.
48 Bobby, alarmed by the admonition, snatches back the flag. And the wild Indians run off. The children streak past the front porch where a group is gathered around a man playing guitar. This is young MUDDY WATERS himself. Poppa has devoted one of the skillets to frying pork rinds. Cliff and the other kids race up and beg Poppa for samples. He gladly offers the bowl. They each grab a handful and run off, taking us past: Ma Pearl seated in a lawn chair cradling Mary and Moses Taulbert's newborn baby. Cliff pauses to take a fresh peek at his baby brother. And Mary grabs Cliff and gives him a big, happy hug. MARY C'mere, honey, let me try this sweater on you I got at the Goodwill. Cliff raises his arms and Mary pulls a bright green reindeer sweater on over his head. MA PEARL Thas real han'some, Cliff. MARY Maybe he can git a winter out of it 'fore he gits too big. CLIFF Thanks, Mama. Cliff gives Mary a hug and kiss. Then he spots a large knot of men encircled in the corner of the yard. Uncle Melvin is there. UNCLE MELVIN is entertaining several of the men with tales of life "up north." Sammy is notably among the audience; sitting on the ground, watching Melvin and soaking up his every word like a dry sponge. Cliff arrives just as Melvin takes a card from his wallet and displays it.
49 MELVIN My union card. The 319 United Auto Workers Local. This here give me the right to work on any auto line in Detroit, Michigan. MOSES What sort a wages they pay a man up in Detroit, Melvin? MELVIN A dolla and sixty-five cents a hour. The men marvel at this figure.
(check the wages.)
LOUIS Thas almost a half day field wages down here. MELVIN Sure it is. LOUIS I always heard the colored don't have to take the back end of a bus up north. MELVIN Thas right, Mr. Louis. You can sit right behind the driver if you want to. And ever now and then, that driver is even a colored man. MOSES Now that's something I'd like to see. None of this incredible information is lost on Sammy who is spellbound by Melvin's report. Cliff tugs on Sammy's shirt. CLIFF Come play with us, Sammy. SAMMY (pushes him away) I don't wanna play. Now, go on, don't pester me.
50 MELVIN Colored man treated like a "man" up north. Down here they spit on ya and call you nigger. But they still want you to chop their cotton, don't they? They want you to spend ya money in their stores. But you cain't sit down next to 'em and eat a sandwich. You cain't use their fountains or their washrooms. But they needin' someone to clean their toilets, you good enough then, ain't ya? The men are disturbed having this mirror held up to their faces. They drop their heads, mutter and nod some. MELVIN Guess thas reason enough for me to be livin' up there 'stead a down here. Cliff listens to this but only part of it soaks in before Bobby comes running by and tags him. BOBBY You it! Cliff chases off after Bobby. And we HOLD Sammy in deep thought. Clearly moved by Melvin's words. INT. MA PONK'S HOUSE - NIGHT Ma Ponk finishes ironing a silk handkerchief. And carries it to Melvin who is primping in front of a wall mirror. He wears a shiny suit, yellow silk shirt and pointed-toe shoes. His hair is slicked down and he's ready for some honky tonkin'. Ma Ponk carefully arranges the handkerchief in Melvin's breast pocket. MA PONK You jus got to go out cattin' tonight, son? MELVIN I ain't cattin', Mama. If I missed anything 'bout this town 'sides you, its the brand a blues they sings down here. I jus goin' to listen.
51 MA PONK You be careful then. Doll always tellin' us 'bout the fights go on in that joint. MELVIN Why don't you come go with me, Mama? MA PONK Ha! Tha be the day Elna Boose step foot in a juke joint. MELVIN I ain't talking 'bout the Gatson's Cafe. I want ya come back up north to Detroit with me. (on Ma Ponk's reaction) You better close ya mouth up 'fore a fly lands in it. MA PONK Why, I cain't do that. MELVIN Why cain't ya? MA PONK (sputtering) Well, I gots Cliff to see after. MELVIN Bring him too. MA PONK Well, I jus couldn't. His mama's here. Poppa and his Ma Pearl. All his cousins and family... They my family too an' I cain't leave 'em. You know how Mama Pearl's been real bad sick. MELVIN (dispirited) Yeah. I know. (kisses her forehead) Don't wait up for me. He turns and exits. EXT. MA PONK'S FRONT PORCH - NIGHT (SAME) Cliff and Sammy are on the porch when Melvin comes out.
52 MELVIN Night, boys. CLIFF Night, Uncle Melvin.
SAMMY Night, Melvin.
Melvin skips down the steps and the boys watch until he is lost in the dark. EXT. GATSON'S CAFE - NIGHT The local colored juke joint. Cars and trucks parked out front. And the sweetest LIVE BLUES you've ever heard comes drifting out the doors. INT. GATSON'S CAFE - NIGHT The place is jiving. Spare rib dinners, beer and the blues are served up in generous portions when Melvin arrives and is warmly greeted by his contemporaries; old friends from his childhood who are today's field workers and tenant farmers. Melvin is offered a good seat. He leans back to listen to a blues ARTIST playing and singing a lonesome "you done me wrong" song. He closes his eyes and loses himself in the brooding melody until the song ends. Then his friends crowd around to tease and jive him with a breezy congeniality. "What's you doin' back here, Melvin? They's chase you down out a Dee-troit?" "Some jealous husband with a shotgun, I wager." "Mebbe he jus come back down to pick a little cotton." Melvin laughs at their good-natured fun. But would rather just sit and listen. The Artist begins another SONG and Melvin waves off his friends. MELVIN Awright. I guess y'all had your fun now. So why don't you just hush up for 'bout a minute and lemme hear some a this sweet sounds y'all been keepin' for yourself. The group grows hushed. Melvin takes a long drag from his beer bottle. Settles back. Closes his eyes. And vaguely taps the slow, sad beat of the music with his heel as he drifts off under its spell. After a moment: His eyes come open. And in the smoky blue haze of the place, he watches a woman dancing. A slow, swaying, sensuous motion in rhythm with the music.
53 Her eyes are fixed on him. He stares back like a stone statue, trancelike and unblinking. Until her eyes begin to beckon him and he slowly rises from his chair. And moves to join her on the floor. The woman is Alice. And as she dances, her eyes never leave Melvin as he comes and dances with her. Mirroring her movements. The crowd backs off and makes room for the couple who sway and gyrate to the music and are oblivious to anyone else in the room. ALICE Sure never thought I'd see you again. MELVIN I tol' you I'd come back. ALICE You didn't say it'd take you ten years. MELVIN Don't seem like ten years. like only ten minutes...
ALICE But it's been ten years. An' don't expect people haven't changed. MELVIN Not you. You still the prettiest girl ever walked down the streets of Glen Allan. Glen Allan, hell! You the prettiest girl in all a Miss'ippi. An' about four other states besides. ALICE Pretty as those North'en girls you been talkin' your trash to all these years? MELVIN Darlin', there ain't a girl in all a Michigan I know can hol' a candle to your good looks... (coming closer) An' the way you move to the blues... (sniffs her neck) An' the way you smell...
54 Alice smiles and squirms away.
They continue to dance.
And then a big colored MAN enters the joint and looks around. It doesn't take him long to see the couple dancing together. And he doesn't like it. He crosses the room, people scattering out of his way. He comes onto the dance floor. And stands between the couple. The MUSIC STOPS. And a hush falls over the room. MELVIN Pardon me, friend. I believe you interruptin' the music. The Greenville Man glowers. Then throws a vicious roundhouse at Melvin. Melvin ducks it. And takes a swing of his own sending the man crashing into a table and chairs. A few SCREAMS rise up. And people stand clear as the stranger looks up with murder in his eye. THE MAN CLIMBS TO HIS FEET, flicks open a switchblade and crouches in the combat position. Unafraid, Melvin snatches up a beer bottle off a table, smashes it and holds the jagged neck as a weapon. The two combatants turn in a slow circle. Each prepared to kill the other. But then, JAMES GATSON, the owner, cook and chief peace enforcer of the establishment appears and cold-cocks the Greenville Man with a beer bottle. The man falls unconscious to the floor with a terrible thud. And James Gatson frowns at Melvin. GATSON You always was trouble Melvin Boose. Now git yourself on out a here 'fore this man wake up and kill us all. Melvin sucks in a deep breath. Sends a tiny nod of appreciation at Mr. Gatson. Then grabs Alice by the hand and hauls her off out the door. EXT. GATSON'S CAFE - NIGHT Melvin holds Alice's hand as they run out of the joint, laughing like two kids fleeing the scene of a childish prank. They run off, hand-in-hand, down the road into the night. LAP TO:
55 EXT. FIELD ROAD - A COTTON WAGON - NIGHT A half-filled cotton wagon is parked on a field road. We HEAR some laughter and giggling coming from it. Then: MELVIN'S VOICE Who was that man anyhow? ALICE'S VOICE Just a fella from down Greenville. No one special to me. MELVIN'S VOICE Well, you sure special to him, awright. He was willin' to cut me cuz a you. ALICE'S VOICE Lots a men willin' to fight over me. That one jus ain't no one special. ANGLE INTO THE WAGON Melvin and Alice lie in the cotton, Alice wearing Melvin's coat around her shoulders. MELVIN You got anyone is special? ALICE Sure I do. MELVIN Special as I was. Alice gets suddenly serious.
ALICE I tol' you, Melvin. Ten years is a long time. People change. Melvin sits up beside her.
Moves in to nibble her neck.
MELVIN I'm still the same. ALICE I know you are. You still got the gift, Melvin Boose. You can still charm the birdies right out a the trees. (MORE)
56 ALICE (CONTâ€™D) Only now... I don't live in the trees anymore. MELVIN No. I guess you don't. You look to me like a lady with both feet planted firmly on the ground... Only you sure you're not jus... stuck in the mud? ALICE Whut you mean by that? MELVIN I'm su'prised you even still livin' here, Alice. You hated this town much as me. I figured you'd a run off a long time ago. ALICE Run off to where? North? you? Chasin' your dream? easier for a man, Melvin. a woman. All alone.
Like It's Not for
MELVIN How cum you never married, had a passel a kids? ALICE How cum you never? Melvin ponders this. back on Alice.
Then raises his eyes and locks them
MELVIN Didn't think I ever met the right lady. Alice searches his deep, wet eyes for a beat. inside them. Then backs away from the edge. ALICE Whut you come back for, Melvin? MELVIN To see my mama. ALICE That the only reason?
57 MELVIN (thoughtful beat) No. I come back mostly to remind myself... why I left. ALICE You remember now? MELVIN Yeah. Ain't no doubt why... Only maybe I jus startin' to regret a little... who I left. Melvin gently touches her cheek. And brings his lips to hers. Alice resists no longer. And allows him to lower her back onto the raw picked cotton where they embrace and kiss passionately. INT. MA PONK'S KITCHEN - DAY Ma Ponk is making a sack lunch for Melvin. with brave tears. While:
Her eyes filled
INT. MA PONK'S PARLOR - DAY (SAME) We're CLOSE ON SAMMY watching Melvin pack his suitcase. Then WIDEN to find Cliff handing Melvin his socks and shirts to be packed. CLIFF Wish you didn't have to go, Uncle Melvin. MELVIN Me too, Cliff. But I gotta. Hand me those s'penders there, will ya? SAMMY Take me with ya. Melvin is caught off guard by the request. sloughs it off.
He laughs and
MELVIN Wish I could. SAMMY (a plea) Ya got to, Melvin. I promise to be no bother.
58 Melvin is jarred by Sammy's insistence, despair, desperation. He stares at the boy for a long moment. MELVIN I cain't. SAMMY You don't take me... I think I prob'ly die in this place. Melvin and Sammy's eyes are locked. Kindred spirits. Melvin understands too well the boy's painful desperation. It's the same despair that drove Melvin away ten years ago. A long, tense moment. Then we HEAR A CAR HORN. Melvin is jolted and bends to buckle up his suitcase. Ma Ponk comes from the kitchen, sniffing back the tears. MA PONK Thas your cab. Melvin picks up his suitcase.
Crosses to the door.
EXT. MA PONK'S HOUSE - DAY (SAME) The cab waits at the gate when Melvin comes out of the house followed by Cliff, Sammy and Ma Ponk. Melvin drops his suitcase on the porch. MELVIN (to Cliff) Bye, little brother. Ponk now.
Mind ya Ma
Ma Ponk hands Melvin his sack lunch. sobs.
Choking back her
MA PONK Jus some chicken. Cornbread... Melvin grabs her in his arms and Ma Ponk squeezes her eyes closed to keep the tears inside. And when she opens them, something o.s. catches her attention: Sitting in the backseat of the cab is Alice. She wears a hat and is dressed for travel. Her eyes are cast forward. But she dares a small peek to the porch and catches Ma Ponk looking. Ma Ponk, still clutching to Melvin's shoulder, is at first confused. But then understands. And a tiny smile of happiness tugs at her lips. She whispers:
59 MA PONK Looks like I don't need t'worry no more 'bout someone cookin' you swee' potata pie up in Detroit. Melvin peels Ma Ponk off. Twists his head around to see Alice waiting nervously in the cab. MELVIN I love her, Mama. I guess I never did git her out a my blood. Ma Ponk smiles through her tears. with her fingers.
Smooths Melvin's lapel
MA PONK I hope she make you happy. Those are the blessings Melvin hoped to hear from his mother. He gives her another kiss. Then glances down at Sammy who loiters at the door. Melvin is unnerved. Doesn't know what to say to him. So he just picks up his case and: crosses the yard to the gate. But with each step he can hear in his mind Sammy's plaintive cry: "Take me with you. Please. Take me. I cain't stay here. I prob'ly die." Melvin reaches the cab. Turns around and finds Sammy standing in the yard watching him with haunted eyes. Melvin puts his suitcase in the cab and goes back to Sammy. Squats down. MELVIN There some changes comin', boy. Don't know when or how. But it's in the wind. Cain't hold people under a thumb long as we been and somethin' not happen... You stay till you ready to make it on your own. Don't let 'em beat you down... An' maybe you be a part a what makes those changes come about. Melvin turns back to the cab. Gets in. rolls off down the old rutted road.
It pulls away and
60 INT. CAB - DAY (SAME) Melvin and Alice sit in the backseat. Alice takes Melvin's arm and looks adoringly up at him. A little nervous, but excited and eager for a new life. Melvin is still shaken by his worry over Sammy. But a look down at Alice's hopeful face causes a smile to bloom. And they're on their way. Leaving behind: EXT. MA PONK'S HOUSE - DAY (SAME) Ma Ponk weeps and clutches to Cliff like she'll never let him go. And MOVE TO Sammy staring after the cab with a firm resolve settling in his expression as women's voices start to come in SINGING a sweet and soulful old time NEGRO SPIRITUAL. And: LAP TO: INT. MA PONK'S PARLOR - NIGHT A quilting frame fills the room with women surrounding it on all sides, sewing together a patterned quilt. As they sew, they are SINGING the spiritual. We TRUCK around the quilt, watching black hands expertly stitching the pieces together. And listen to voices blended in sweet melody as: NARRATION There is much I recall fondly from my childhood. EXT. MA PONK'S KITCHEN - DAY Cliff sits in a number three wash tub taking a bath. NARRATION Scenes flash through my mind's eye that seem to belong not only to a different time... but to a different world. EXT. ROAD - DAY A baseball game in the road. While Cliff bats, Poppa plays catcher. Ma Ponk winds up and hurls the ball. Cliff takes a mighty swing, connects and runs, sending other participants scrambling into action.
61 NARRATION It would be hard today to explain how people who had so little... could live their lives so richly... And could love and appreciate each other so fully. INT. SCHOOLHOUSE - DAY While Miss Maxey presides, Cliff goes before the class, unfolds a piece of tablet paper and begins to read: CLIFF Jackie Roosevelt Robinson was born in Cairo, Georgia in 1919. He was the first Negro... As Cliff continues, his words FADE AWAY and we: SLOW DISSOLVE TO: EXT. SOUTHERN FIG TREE - DAY - 1957 Autumn leaves shimmer in the huge magnificent tree. And CAMERA DRIFTS DOWNWARD at the rate of a falling leaf to find a boy raking leaves on the front lawn of Miss Maybry's mansion. NARRATION And I never failed to marvel at the variety of people who populated my life. MISS MAYBRY (O.S.) Cliff-tin! The boy looks up and around and we get our first look at Cliff, 11-years-old. He finds old Miss Maybry poking her head out the front door. MISS MAYBRY I was so hoping you would git this yard cleaned up 'fore the sun comes out tomorrow. (a sigh of resignation) Well, c'mon around the back. Let's eat some lunch. The woman disappears back inside the house. And Cliff isn't certain his ears heard right. This white woman is inviting him to lunch?
62 INT. MISS MAYBRY'S KITCHEN - DAY (SAME) ANNIE, Miss Maybry's colored cook, is busy at the sink when Cliff enters the back door. Takes off his hat. ANNIE You hungry, Cliff? Sit down at the table. Cliff moves to the kitchen table where two hot bowls of soup and a plate of bread sit. He takes a seat. Miss Maybry enters. MISS MAYBRY Why don't you take off your coat and stay awhile? Let me see those hands. Cliff jumps up and takes off his coat, holds out his hands for inspection. They don't pass. MISS MAYBRY There's soap over at the sink. Cliff goes to the sink to wash his hands. MISS MAYBRY Annie, we need two glasses of buttermilk, please. Annie goes to pour the buttermilk. his hands while:
And Cliff is washing
MISS MAYBRY Jonah Hazeltine used to keep my yard, don't you know? Poor soul just got too old to work anymore. But when he would rake my yard, there wouldn't be one solitary leaf to be found anywhere inside my fence. Cliff takes all this in, wondering what Mr. Hazeltine's secret was for catching leaves as they fell to the ground. MISS MAYBRY But I s'pect there is only one Jonah Hazeltine. Cliff dries his hands and returns to the table.
63 MISS MAYBRY Sit down. Cliff sits. And stares across the table, taking his cue from Miss Maybry. The old woman closes her eyes. Cliff closes his. MISS MAYBRY Thank you, oh Lord, for the bounty of your blessings. Amen. Cliff opens one eye. Then the other to see Miss Maybry put her napkin in her lap and reach for her spoon. MISS MAYBRY You like gumbo, don't you? CLIFF Yes'm. MISS MAYBRY Then eat. Cliff digs in. beats until:
And the odd couple eat in silence for some
MISS MAYBRY Your Auntie Elna tells me you're a good worker. You prove it to me, you can take care of my yard full time... (mutters) Fields are no place for a child to be workin' anyway. CLIFF Fields no place for anybody be workin'. Miss Maybryâ€™s eyes flash at Cliff in surprise. And she lowers her spoon back into the bowl. Annie flashes a worried look at Cliff. He doesn't notice. MISS MAYBRY Is that so? An' might that be your very own opinion or are you just repeatin' what you've been told? Cliff continues to eat while he innocently answers her questions.
64 CLIFF Uncle Sammy say so. He say dogs an' mules git more respect than a field worker do. And we all ought jus to sit down an' stop doin' it. MISS MAYBRY Well now! Wouldn't we be in a sorry state if everyone thought the same as Uncle Sammy? Cliff's eyes fly up to Miss Maybry and his spoon stops halfway to his mouth. He glances over at Annie who gives him a look and a tiny little shake of the head. He's worried now. He sets the spoon back in his bowl. CLIFF I'm sorry. MISS MAYBRY No. No. Don't ever be sorry for what you truly believe. (fidgeting) But it just so happens somebody's got to pick the cotton. No one makes them do it. They all git paid, don't they? CLIFF Yes'm. Miss Maybry feels vindicated. She has won her point. makes an emphatic nod of the head.
CLIFF Slave wages. Miss Maybry slaps her spoon on the table and throws her head back. Annie's eyes look straight to heaven. And Cliff is stunned. He's sincerely not trying to annoy this woman. MISS MAYBRY Slave wages indeed! I suppose Uncle Sammy told you that. No ma'am.
CLIFF Uncle Cleve say that.
Annie drops a glass on the floor. Cliff and Miss Mabry shoot her a startled glance. Then Miss Mabry turns her eyes back on Cliff:
65 MISS MAYBRY And what else might Uncle Cleve have to say on the subject? CLIFF Well... he say there ain't nothin' to field work. He tell me go all the way in school an' learn to be something. MISS MAYBRY That sounds reasonable. That's excellent advice. Do you expect to follow it? CLIFF Yes'm. MISS MAYBRY And what do you plan to be when you grow up? CLIFF I thought 'bout bein' a preacher like my Poppa. Only I ain't got the callin' yet. So I think I be the iceman. MISS MAYBRY (scoffs) Hmph. It hardly seems you need an education for that. Do you like to read? Cliff nods enthusiastically. MISS MAYBRY What do you read? CLIFF I read 'bout the li'l engine that could. An' I read 'bout John Henry's hammer... MISS MAYBRY No, no, child. I mean lit'rature. Don't you read books? Great books by famous authors? Cliff looks blank. grows annoyed.
He shakes his head no.
66 MISS MAYBRY Then you must be lazy. Public library is just burstin' with good books. CLIFF (a long beat) But coloreds not 'lowed in the libary, Miz Maybry. Miss Maybry is jarred to the bone by this. It's a fact she was most certainly aware of but something she had never before even bothered to consider. Annie grows a pleased little smile, enjoying Miss Mabry's sudden discomfort. Miss Mabry thinks for a minute. Then gets an idea. Leaps out of her chair. MISS MAYBRY Come with me. She strides out of the kitchen. only shrugs her shoulders.
Cliff turns to Annie who
INT. MISS MAYBRY'S PARLOR - DAY (SAME) Miss Maybry crosses from the dining room, through the entrance foyer and to a large bookcase covering much of one parlor wall. Cliff lags slowly behind. His head rocked back and swiveling at the splendor of the place. A circular staircase. An enormous crystal chandelier. Walnut wainscoting and brocade wall coverings. Persian carpets. And delicate colonial furniture polished to a shine. Cliff is gaping up at the high ceilings when: MISS MAYBRY Well, come over here. I am certain we can find you some books to read. Cliff joins her at the bookshelves. MISS MAYBRY Oh. Here. The Iliad. By Homer. He was Greek, don't you know. Are you familiar with it? Cliff wags his head no. MISS MAYBRY Perhaps that is too ambitious to begin with. (MORE)
67 MISS MAYBRY (CONTâ€™D) (keeps searching) This is it! Oliver Twist. By Mr. Charles Dickens. It is perfect for a boy your age. (hands him the book) You take this home. Keep it long as you like. You have trouble with any of the words let your teacher help you. An' when you're through with this one, I'll give you another. I'll check out books from the library for you. (a smile) My grandad told me once the whole world is written down in books. But like eggs, you have got to crack them open to git anything out. Cliff is letting this sink in. cover of the book.
He fingers the fine leather
MISS MAYBRY Now go eat your soup and finish raking up those leaves. An' I'll drive you home. CLIFF Oh, no ma'am, I'll walk. Poppa tol' me never ride in your car cause you drive like a bat out a hell. Cliff grins and turns back into the kitchen, admiring his book. And leaving Miss Maybry sputtering. LAP TO: EXT. ROAD - DAY - 1958 An old flatbed truck comes bouncing slowly up the road. The driver, Uncle Cleve, pokes his head out the window and CALLS: CLEVE ICEMAN IS HERE!... ICEMAAAAN!... Cliff, 12, comes flying out of Ma Ponk's screened porch letting the door slam behind him. Flags down the ice truck.
68 CLIFF Hi, Uncle Cleve. CLEVE (climbing out of the truck) Hidy, Cliff. Ma Ponk pokes her head out the screen door. MA PONK Only fifteen pounds today, Cleve. Cleve waves to her and meets Cliff at the rear of the truck. CLIFF Can I chop the ice? CLEVE I ever said no? Cleve throws the big canvas tarp back to reveal large, squared off blocks of ice. Some as big as three hundred pounds. CLEVE Lemme git it started for you. Cleve whittles out the shape of a 15 pound block while Cliff finds a big chip to suck on. Then Cleve hands Cliff the pick. And Cliff chops away till the fifteen pound block breaks free. CLIFF Can I carry it? CLEVE Well I dunno. Lemme feel your muscle first. Cliff makes the biggest muscle he can. WHISTLES in amazement.
Cleve feels it.
CLEVE That feel like a fifteen pound muscle to me, awright. Cleve drops his leather shoulder apron over Cliff's head. Clamps the tongs into the block. Hands them to Cliff. Cliff holds the tongs over his shoulder and buckles under the weight when he slides the block off the end of the truck. Cliff and Cleve cross to the house.
69 INT. MA PONK'S KITCHEN - DAY (SAME) Ma Ponk sets a piece of pie on the table as Cleve and Cliff enter the back door. MA PONK Sit down have a piece a pie, Cleve. CLEVE Is this your cherry pie day, Miz Ponk? MA PONK So happens... CLEVE Well, I want you know I consider my greatest pleasure of the whole week is to bring you ice on your cherry pie day. Ma Ponk smiles and we sense the smallest glimmer of something sweet and romantic trying to spark between them. Cleave takes a seat and digs into the pie. MA PONK I hear you, Cleve Mormon, and it seems to me you said pert near that very same thing last Tuesday on my apple pie day. CLEVE Uh-huh, and I meant it on apple pie day too. Cherry, apple or sweet potata, don't make any difference. Fact is... (a smile) I get a pleasure bringin' ice to you on any day. Ma Ponk is caught off guard and just a little flustered by the declaration. She's momentarily at a loss for words and fights back a giddy grin as she fusses nervously with the edges of her hair. Meanwhile, Cliff installs the ice block in the pan under the ice box. CLIFF Ma Ponk, I gonna be a iceman when I grows up.
70 MA PONK You decide that, did ya? Thought you was gonna be a preacher like Poppa was. CLIFF I gonna be a preacher on Sunday. And a iceman on all the other days. CLEVE (laughing) That gimme a idea, Cliff. Maybe I start dishin' up a little scripture when I delivers the ice. Ma Ponk laughs.
Chucks Cleve on the shoulder.
CLEVE Bus'ness keep falling off way it's been, I might have to think 'bout preachin' or doin' somethin' else all the time. MA PONK You can't mean it, Cleve. CLEVE I'm afraid I do, Miz Ponk. I lost almost every customer I had over in Metcalfe. On account of an outfit in Greenville been spreadin' out an' takin' up a lotta bus'ness. I jus don't know where it's all gonna lead to. Ma Ponk considers this bad news for a moment. is at the back door, sweaty and breathless.
BOBBY (urgent) Cliff! C'mon! They setting up the tent out at the fairgrounds! Les go watch! Cliff doesn't need to think twice. and both boys are gone.
He flies out the door
EXT. FAIRGROUNDS - DAY START on a handbill posted on a telephone pole. GREEN TENT AND MINSTREL SHOW - AUG. 21, 22.
71 Then drop down from the handbill to see Cliff and Bobby running fast as they can. They pull up, panting for breath, and look to see -men unloading a huge mound of canvas from a big truck. Cliff and Bobby start to run up for a closer look when: WHITE MAN (O.S.) Hey, you boys! The boys stop and turn to find -A skinny WHITE MAN wearing a suit and hat standing beside a long, black shiny car. WHITE MAN C'mover here a minute. Cliff and Bobby go to him. WHITE MAN We're gonna be needin' accommodations for 'bout five colored girls. Think you could find us some rooms aroun' where you live? At that moment, car doors open and long colored legs in shiny silk stockings start piling out. And attached to the legs are the most gorgeous colored ladies the boys have ever seen. Their eyes grow wide as saucers. CLIFF/BOBBY (in unison) Yes suh! BOBBY Wait here! CLIFF We git you all you need! The boys turn and race back down the road even faster than they got here. CLIFF (to Bobby; on the run) Les go ask Miz Florence first.
72 BOBBY You. I'm goin' home tell Mama. wants to git one a those girls 'fore they all gone!
LAP TO: EXT. MA PONK'S HOUSE - DAY Cliff has changed clothes, greased his hair and is anxiously pacing the front porch when he sees the long, black car coming down the road. He HOLLERS into the house: Ma Ponk!
CLIFF They's here!
Cliff runs out to flag down the car. And Ma Ponk bolts out the door. But quickly catches herself and restrains her excitement. She frets with her hair a bit. Smoothâ€™s her dress and watches from the porch as: THE WHITE MAN gets out of the car to be greeted by Cliff. CLIFF I tol' ya we find ya rooms. WHITE MAN You did, boy, thas a fact. Here's something for your trouble. The White Man hands Cliff a dollar. And moves to the rear of the car to take luggage out of the trunk. Cliff can't believe his good fortune. A show girl emerges from the car. Peers around the neighborhood with obvious disdain. Her eyes wander to the house and find Ma Ponk standing on the porch, grinning and offering a tiny finger wave. The lady named NILA, mid-twenties, forces a smile. Cliff is gawking at the woman. hands him a suitcase.
But then the White Man
WHITE MAN Lead the way, kid. Cliff runs on ahead to the porch lugging the heavy suitcase. And Nila turns and gives the man a look. WHITE MAN Don't look at me that way, Nila. You been in worse.
73 NILA I come from worse. I left.
WHITE MAN Two nights. That's all. The other girls ain't got it no better. The man gets back in the car and drives away. in a world-weary sigh and MUTTERS:
NILA I despise these little tank towns. And she struggles with her luggage to the porch where Ma Ponk is all smiles. MA PONK Y'all come in. We's pleased to have ya. My name's Elna Boose. NILA (a wan, icy smile) I'm Nila Fontaine. MA PONK Pleasure. Ma Ponk and Cliff lead Nila through the front door into: INT. MA PONK'S PARLOR - DAY (SAME) Cliff and Ma Ponk enter with their guest. MA PONK You be sleepin' in my room. NILA I hate to put you out. MA PONK Oh, it ain't no bother t'all. NILA May I ask? Is there bathing facilities? It takes Ma Ponk a moment to understand the question. MA PONK You want to take a bath?
74 NILA (fanning herself) In the worst way. CLIFF I go get the wash tub. Cliff flies out through the kitchen. incredulous.
And Nila looks
INT. MA PONK'S KITCHEN - DAY (LATER) Ma Ponk tends a kettle on the stove during: MA PONK It must be real excitin' what you do. Travelin' an' all. (reflecting) Once when I was a girl... a travelin' gospel group stopped by here to sing in our church. Our choir got to sing 'long with 'em. An' later, the man in charge said he liked my voice. Said he could find me a place in his group if I wanted to go on the road... Oh, oh!
NILA (O.S.) I got shampoo in my eyes!
Ma Ponk picks up the kettle. room and pours it on:
Takes it to the center of the
NILA sitting in the wash tub, her head lathered in shampoo. The kettle water lands directly on Nila's head and she lets out a SHRIEK. Then she looks up and finds Ma Ponk is not alone. A 14-year-old girl, LOUISE, is here smiling down at her. MA PONK This here, Louise. She our neighbor. Louise nods a bashful greeting.
And Nila is dismayed.
INT. MA PONK'S BEDROOM - DAY (LATER) Louise lies belly down across the bed, her head propped up on an elbow, paging through a magazine. LOUISE You ever been to Memphis?
75 Now we see Nila sitting in front of a small dressing table, wearing a colorful silk dressing gown while she combs out her hair. NILA Memphis lots a times. Why, chile, I been to St. Louis, Atlanta, Washington D.C. Even New York City. But if it's excitement you want, not one a them places compares to Chicago, Illinois. Ma Ponk is ironing one of Nila's costumes. Other sequined, glittery gowns hang from the door. Ma Ponk is all ears and wide-eyed fascination. Cliff leans against the door frame. LOUISE Tell us 'bout Chicago. NILA Oh, you don't want to hear me go on no more. I been rattlin' on for an hour. MA PONK Thas awright. We like to listen. LOUISE What they have in Chicago, Miz Nila? NILA Chile, you wouldn't believe what they got. They got buildings so high there's more shade than sun in the streets. An' the stores!... (gasping) One is called Marshall Fields an' it's as big as this whole town! Louise and Ma Ponk go goggle-eyed. open.
Cliff's mouth drops
NILA Jus floor on top a floor of everything you can imagine. An' elevators to take you up an' down. An' there's night clubs in Chicago. An' theaters an' hotels with palm trees inside the lobbies.
76 Ma Ponk shakes her head in amazement. LOUISE You stay in those hotels?! NILA Sure do. Stayed on the ninth floor one time. An' sat by a window in my room an' ate supper while I looked out over all a Lake Michigan. LOUISE (awestruck) North sure is a lot differ'nt from down here. Nila stops combing. She seems at that moment touched by these simple people and their difficult lives. She looks at Louise in the mirror for a beat. Then turns in her chair to see her directly. NILA Sugar... you jus said it all. A silent moment. costume to her.
Then Ma Ponk brings Nila's freshly ironed
MA PONK Here's your dress. NILA You didn't have to iron for me, Miz Elna. MA PONK No bother. It's a pleasure jus to get to look at all a these pretty costumes. Nila gets an idea. Rises. looking her up and down.
Turns Ma Ponk in a circle,
NILA You about my size, Miz Elna. don't you try one on?
MA PONK (flustered) Oh, no. I couldn't.
Nila sets Ma Ponk down in the chair at the dressing table.
77 NILA You can an' I won't hear another word. But before we can put you in a pretty dress, we got to make your face look pretty too. Ma Ponk resists futilely. And Louise and Cliff gather in close to watch the transformation. MA PONK What's you gonna do? Nila starts to unpin Ma Ponk's hair. NILA You jus keep your eyes in that mirror an' you'll see what I'm gonna do. Ma Ponk's long black hair, streaked with grey, falls down her back. Nila reacts to this, drawing into a quiet nostalgic mood. She gently smoothâ€™s Ma Ponk's hair with her hands. NILA My mama kept her hair long as this. Nila's eyes catch Ma Ponk's eyes in the mirror. And we sense a wistful sadness coming over her. A long silent moment, then: MA PONK Where is your mama? Nila takes a brush and begins to work on Ma Ponk's hair. She hesitates a moment. NILA Back home. LOUISE Where you from, Miz Nila? NILA Oh, sugar, I'm from a little wide spot in Alabama. Town not even big as Glen Allan, can you believe it? Ma Ponk has sensed Nila's changed mood. feeling something inside.
Knows she is
78 MA PONK You miss it? Nila's eyes flash to Ma Ponk in the mirror. her brushing. Miss the town? bit.
Then return to
NILA Not even a little
MA PONK Miss your mama? NILA (beat) Sugar, hand me those hair pins. Louise hands Nila the pins. Then:
Nila works a moment longer.
NILA My mama say to me the day I left, she say 'Lettie Jane...' That's my real name, Lettie Jane Hutchin. She say, 'Lettie Jane, you go out that door, don't ever come back. You settin' your tent toward Sodom with all your hopes an' dreams an' big talk 'bout bein' a stage singer. Nothin' but sin an' evil ever come of it,' she say... So I never went back. MA PONK I got a good idea maybe she change her mind. She your mama. Nila thinks about this.
NILA Miz Elna, why didn't you run off with that gospel group when you had the chance? MA PONK Oh, Lord. I was jus a girl. Barely fifteen. Poppa said, no. So I didn't. Always wondered though what woulda happened if I did.
79 NILA (sadly) That's why I left, I guess... Didn't want to spend my life wonderin'. The two women fall silent now, lost in their private thoughts. And we: LAP TO: INT. MA PONK'S PARLOR - DAY (LATER) Cliff is waiting in the parlor. He HEARS giddy laughter in the bedroom. Then-- the door opens and Louise appears. Brightly made up in rouge and mascara, a tiara in her hair, wearing a glittery costume and feather boa, she strikes a pose. LOUISE Ta-daaa! Cliff gawks. And around the room. door and finds Ma Nila. Cliff does up, bejeweled and
watches as Louise vamps, bumps and grinds Then he HEARS a commotion back at the Ponk being urged out of the bedroom by a take at the sight of Ma Ponk painted decked out in a red sequined dress.
Ma Ponk is dying with embarrassment but at the same time, she can't take the silly grin off her face. NILA Well, Cliff, ain't you got nothin' to say 'bout your auntie? CLIFF (wrinkles his nose) Ma Ponk, tha you? MA PONK You utter word one to a livin' soul about this, boy, and we gonna tangle. Cliff cups a hand over his mouth to hide his laughter. NILA Oh my Lord, looka the time! I got to git a move on. Cliff, can you help me carry some things over the fairgrounds?
80 CLIFF Yes'm. She hands Cliff her make-up case. He crosses to the door. Nila opens her purse, takes out a ticket. NILA (aside) Miz Elna, take this pass. It's a ticket to the show tonight. I want you be my guest. MA PONK The girlie sho!... (catching herself) I mean the minstrel show? Oh, I couldn't. Only men go to those. NILA How you know unless you been? Now it starts at nine-thirty. I want you come. Nila picks up her dress bag.
Pauses at the door.
NILA Please... I want you see it ain't so bad as Mama thinks. There's a plea in Nila's voice. She drops her eyes. And exits. Ma Ponk is bewildered. Looks at the free pass. But knows she'll never use it. EXT. FAIRGROUNDS - DUSK Nila and Cliff arrive at the tent to find Bobby peeking in the entrance. NILA Looks like someone tryin' to git a peek without a ticket. CLIFF Thas my cousin Bobby. Nila and Cliff come up behind bobby unnoticed. NILA Well, hello, cousin Bobby. Bobby jumps and turns with a start. Looks up at Cliff's beautiful escort in awe and admiration.
81 NILA Is one of my friends stayin' at your house too? BOBBY Miss Gloria. NILA Well, aren't Miss Gloria and me jus the luckiest things to be stayin' at the homes of two such han'some men? She hands Bobby her dress bag. NILA I'd be so grateful you'd carry this for me. Nila saunters into the tent. Bobby and Cliff exchange wide-eyed, happy looks. And follow her inside. INT. TENT Men are setting up chairs when Cliff and Bobby follow Nila inside. As they make their way down the aisle, the men WHISTLE and CALL OUT to Nila who smiles demurely and pretends to ignore the attention. Nila leads the boys to the dressing room entrance behind the stage. Lady's laughing VOICES come from inside. And the boys crane their necks for a glimpse through the flap while Nila digs into her change purse and hands them each a quarter. NILA Thank you, boys. You been perfect gentlemen. She takes her luggage and disappears through the flap. Cliff and Bobby heave disappointed sighs in perfect unison. And turn back down the aisle toward the tent's only entrance/exit. But just as they reach the exit, Bobby's eyes slide slyly around his head. He grabs Cliff by the shirt sleeve and jerks him down behind a stack of wooden crates piled up behind the last row of chairs.
82 INT. POPPA'S HOUSE - TIGHT ON POPPA - NIGHT His eyes are squeezed together. His face pinched up in grief. He is MURMURING a prayer only God can hear. Then WIDEN to find Poppa standing at the foot of Ma Pearl's bed. Dr. Duke holds a stethoscope to the old woman's chest and strains to hear a faint and dying heartbeat. Aunt Lurlean kneels next to the bed sobbing as she squeezes Ma Pearl's hand. At last Dr. Duke rises and folds his stethoscope away. Comes to Poppa. DR. DUKE (gently) It's her heart, Joe. And her lungs. They just cain't do the job anymore. A tear springs out and flows down Poppa's puckered face. DR. DUKE Best let all your people know. INT. TENT - NIGHT The band STRIKES UP. And the show begins. The tent is packed now. Mostly men. Coloreds in the rear. Whites up front. All on their feet WHOOPING AND HOLLERING. Cliff and Bobby use the confusion to sneak up the outside aisle and get as close as possible without being noticed by the four burly men guarding the stage. And a colored man in a tuxedo comes bounding onto the stage SINGING and tap dancing. EXT. MA PONK'S HOUSE - NIGHT Mr. Will pounds on the front door and CALLS OUT: MR. WILL Ponk! Ponk, you to home? Ponk!...
Alerted by the noise, Aunt May Ann, next door, comes out onto her porch. MAY ANN Mr. Will! What's you shouting 'bout over there?
83 MR. WILL I lookin' for Ponk, May Ann. Her mama done take a turn an' Elder send me to spread the news. INT. TENT - NIGHT The show is rollicking now. The band blares loudly and five gorgeous colored ladies in glittering, feathered costumes dance on the stage. The audience continues to WHOOP it up. And: Cliff and Bobby watch wide-eyed from their place of concealment. Cliff's attention is fixed on Nila as she and the others bump and grind their way to the front of the stage. Then they all laugh together, whirl and dance back. Bobby turns to Cliff. Shouts in his ear: BOBBY One in the blue dress is mine! And just then, a man in the audience, overcome with ardor and desire, rushes the stage. But is immediately subdued by two guards. As he is bent and held harmlessly against the ground, one of the girls pauses at the edge of the stage and beckons the hapless man to join her. The man struggles futilely while the audience laughs riotously. Then he is dragged to his feet and unceremoniously hauled up the aisle. MA PONK cautiously enters at that moment, wearing her Sunday hat and clutching her pocketbook. No trace of the bright rouge and mascara remaining on her face. She no sooner gets her eyes accustomed to the smoke-clouded light than she has to jump out of the way of two men wrestling the heckler up the aisle and out the exit. Frightened by the incident and confirming in her mind she never should have come, Ma Ponk makes a motion towards the exit. But hesitates just a moment to glance at the glittering excitement on stage. The combination of band music, shouting and flashing spectacle root her to the spot. She can't take her eyes off it. INT. POPPA'S PARLOR - NIGHT The room is filled with family and friends. Sitting or standing. Silent or softly murmuring in the somber tones of worried mourners: "Pearl knew it for a long time." "She tol' me at church she felt she was giving her last cov'nant." "Pearl's awright. She got good religion."
84 The bedroom door opens. All conversation ceases and eyes turn as Dr. Duke emerges. He shakes his head sadly. Nothing more he can do. He crosses to the front door and exits. INT. TENT - NIGHT Cliff and Bobby are agog at the girls dancing on stage. While: INT. POPPA'S BEDROOM - NIGHT Poppa sits next to the bed, holding Ma Pearl's hand. And choking back his sobs. Aunt Lurlean stands behind him crying. INT. TENT - NIGHT Ma Ponk watches the stage show with the same awe and fascination as the two boys. While: INT. POPPA'S BEDROOM - NIGHT Mourners peer into the room as Ma Pearl whispers her last words in Poppa's ear. MA PEARL Don't be s'sad, Joe... Always remember... I love you. INT. TENT - NIGHT A stage guard spots the two boys peering out from behind the legs of some men. He goes to investigate. Cliff and Bobby spot the guard coming and begin to scoot back up the outside aisle toward the rear of the tent. MA PONK is mesmerized by the loud, raucous activity on stage. INT. POPPA'S HOUSE - NIGHT Ma Pearl's hand goes limp in Poppa's hand. Her slow, labored breathing ceases. And at that instant: INT. TENT - NIGHT Ma Ponk throws up her hands to her face as the dancers do a suggestive shimmy. Meanwhile:
85 Cliff and Bobby manage to elude the guard and return to the safety of the crates behind the back row. They wait a moment. Then peer carefully over the tops of the crates to find the guard scratching his head and wondering where those two have gone. Cliff has a big grin on and is clearly pleased with himself when he twists his neck and sees a jarring sight -Ma Ponk stands near the exit watching the show. And something catches her attention out the corner of her eye, because she turns at that very same instant and spots Cliff. Cliff and Ma Ponk's eyes catch and lock on. Both so flabbergasted they can't move or react. But finally, after what seems an eternity to Cliff, an amazing thing happens. Ma Ponk redirects her eyes to the stage and pretends she never saw the boy. Cliff can't believe it. He slowly sinks back down behind the crates. Bobby, not having seen Ma Ponk, slides back down beside Cliff and whispers: BOBBY I think he's gone. Les go back up front. But Cliff doesn't answer. Shocked as he is to find Ma Ponk here. To be sighted. And not assailed by her. Something is very odd. Cliff slowly rises up from behind the crates once more and peers over in Ma Ponk's direction... but she's not there. EXT. ROAD - NIGHT Ma Ponk walks briskly home. A thousand thoughts crowding her mind. And the old bell over St. Mark's Baptist Church begins to toll. Ma Ponk halts and stands rooted in place. That bell can mean only one thing. Someone has died. Ma Ponk continues on her way with a strong sense of foreboding. Who could it be? Her pace quickens as names run through her mind. Who has been sick lately? Faster yet she walks. Then a terrible thought comes to her. And like a bolt of lightning she knows. It's Mama Pearl. Her heart filled with dread, Ma Ponk is running now and realizing the truth. Her mother is dead.
86 EXT. POPPA'S HOUSE - NIGHT The porch light is on and overflow mourners from the house mill about on the porch when Ma Ponk arrives out of breath. Her worst fears confirmed, she moves slowly to the porch. Folks step aside and make way as she climbs the steps to the door. INT. POPPA'S PARLOR - NIGHT (SAME) Ma Ponk enters to find the house filled with somber faces. She slowly crosses the room, faintly acknowledging the outstretched hands offered in sympathy during: NARRATION In my small, uncomplicated world everyone knew each other or was related. And when illness or death invaded our ranks, the people would come together to provide comfort and strength for the bereaved... giving no regard to the long day of labor that lay ahead. INT. POPPA'S BEDROOM Mourners take turns entering the room and paying their respects over Mama. Ma Ponk halts at the door to see Mama Pearl in her bed. Tears shine in Ma Ponk's eyes but she remains brave. She sees Poppa rocking in the corner. Goes to him. Touches his hand with hers. He clutches her hand with both of his. And Aunt Lurlean is at Ma Ponk's shoulder. LURLEAN Mama been callin' you, honey. jus couldn't wait no more.
Ma Ponk's tearful eyes are steady on Mama as she slips her hand out of Poppa's grasp and crosses to the bed. Sits on the edge. Reaches out her bony hand and begins to smooth and pat at Mama's grey hair. NARRATION Ma Pearl's season had come to an end. Another Christian soldier was gone. And Ma Ponk wasn't there to hold her mother's hand and say the things we do at times like these...
87 INT. POPPA'S PARLOR - NIGHT (LATER) Mourners are softly SINGING A HYMN. in "Amazing Grace." While:
Women's VOICES blended
INT. POPPA'S BEDROOM - NIGHT Preacher Hurn stands over Ma Pearl's bed, clutching his Bible and reciting a PRAYER. Ma Ponk, Aunt Lurlean, Poppa and others stand at the foot of the bed, holding hands, heads bowed in prayer. Cliff arrives. Peers solemnly around the doorframe into the room. His sad eyes fall on Ma Pearl. Then travel to Ma Ponk, Poppa and Aunt Lurlean in prayer. When the prayer is over, Poppa settles heavily into his rocker. And Ma Ponk sees Cliff by the door. NARRATION Ma Ponk and I never spoke of seeing each other in that tent one hot August night. We held each other's secret like a trust... Ma Ponk crosses to Cliff. Cups one hand under the boy's cheek and draws him in close to her hip. Then releases him and exits the front door. Cliff watches her go. NARRATION And the one and only minstrel show my aunt ever allowed herself to attend was paid for with years of regret. Cliff wipes a tear. Then enters the bedroom. up into Poppa's lap.
EXT. POPPA'S FRONT PORCH - NIGHT (SAME) A scraggly tomato plant grows in a pot on the porch railing. A hand reaches in to gently touch the leaves. And PULL BACK to find Ma Ponk examining the plant when: NILA'S VOICE (softly) Miz Elna. Ma Ponk looks around to find Nila standing timidly in shadows at the end of the porch. Ma Ponk goes to her. NILA
88 I didn't want to intrude. I'm jus awful sorry 'bout your mama. Ma Ponk can only stare hollow-eyed and vacantly. a moment, tears begin to mist in Ma Ponk's eyes. wraps long, comforting arms around the woman.
But after And she
MA PONK Go visit your mama, chile. Time's too short. An' life too precious. Nila bursts into tears and cries so hard she can't answer. Her head begins to bob as though nodding agreement. Then: NILA I will... I will, Miz Elna. I promise... I'm goin' home to see my mama. I promise... I promise I will. HOLD the two women clinging to each other.
Then: DISSOLVE TO:
EXT. COTTON FIELD - DAY It's a cold, grey, blustery day. Field hands bundled against the cold are picking cotton. The mood is drear and somber. And the action is played out so slowly as to appear to be a still life. NARRATION We measured our lives by the cotton seasons. Spring was planting time... when the earth was broken open and seeded... In summer we chopped weeds with short handled hoes that kept our backs bent and our eyes forever aimed only one step ahead of our feet. A pair of black hands wearing fingerless gloves painfully plucks the cotton out of the boles during: NARRATION Then 'picking time' found us all in the fields coaxing cotton from bolls with fingers sometimes so cold and stiff they were numb...
89 Now another hand reaches The working hands stop. colored man offering the The Worker stares warily
in and offers a paper leaflet. And we WIDEN to find a young leaflet to the older field worker. at the younger man.
WORKER I don't want it, Sammy. SAMMY Ought to read it, Mr. Stanley. It's real important. It's about... The Worker turns his back on Sammy, 19-years-old now, and resumes his work. WORKER I know whut it's about. ain't int'rested.
So Sammy moves on. Up and down the rows passing out literature that most of the people don't even want possession of. ANGLE TO THE GROUND One of Sammy's leaflets has blown up against a cotton plant like so much discarded litter. We can read the title in bold print: KNOW YOUR VOTING RIGHTS. A hand reaches down. Picks up the leaflet and we follow it up to find the Straw Boss holding it. Straw Boss reads the leaflet. Then peers out across thirty rows of cotton plants to discover Sammy handing them out. Sammy spots the Straw Boss at about the same time. He ceases his activity. Scrunches his neck down in the collar of his coat and walks briskly away. But we HOLD the Straw Boss, biting on a cigar, his eyes fixed steadily on the young man the whole way. LAP TO: EXT. COLORED TOWN - NIGHT Headlights creep up the old is thrown out of the bed of lurches forward and rambles Three or four white men are
road. Stop. And a body a pickup truck. The truck off past us down the road. in the back of the truck.
90 ANOTHER ANGLE reveals a young black man lying semiconscious and badly beaten in the road. We HEAR a tiny MOAN. And a dog BARKS somewhere off in the stillness. INT. MA PONK'S KITCHEN - NIGHT While Ma Ponk dries dishes, Cliff sits at the table reading his Oliver Twist. CLIFF Whas this word? Ma Ponk comes and takes a look. MA PONK Tha word orph'nage. Means a place where... At that moment there's a NOISE on the screen porch and Ma Ponk cautiously goes to investigate. Opens the back door. And finds -SAMMY barely able to stand on his feet. He is beaten and bloody. A broken arm hangs limp at his side. MA PONK Oh my Lord... Ma Ponk clasps Sammy and pulls him into the kitchen. him in a chair. Cliff stares.
SAMMY I think my arm is broke. MA PONK Look at you. And Ma Ponk sets about splinting the arm. TIME CUT TO: INT. MA PONK'S KITCHEN - NIGHT (LATER) Ma Ponk has finished wrapping Sammy's arm and making a sling. MA PONK What everone tell you, son? 'Bout aggervatin' white folks way you do... SAMMY
91 They tol' me they only bust my arm this time. Next time they gonna kill me! MA PONK Cliff, run tell Sammy's mama he over here. SAMMY No!... Thas why I come here. Mama don't have to see me.
MA PONK She gonna see you sometime... Swee' Jesus, looka you... All the time agitatin'. Talkin' equal rights for coloreds. Thought you learned a lesson when the Sheriff 'rested you for sittin' in the white section at the movie house. Cliff, run git Dr. Duke. SAMMY Don't need no doctor! MA PONK No. You needin' your mama take a stick to you what you need. You gots to git it in your head that white people don't stomach one of us standin' up to 'em... Cliff, run git Sammy's mama. An' do it this time. Never mind your coat. Jus run! Cliff races out the back door. SAMMY Things got to change, Ma Ponk. MA PONK I know, honey, I know they do. I gots to git the thi'late for these cuts. Ma Ponk exits the kitchen. Sammy, desperate, searches for his next move. And his eye catches Ma Ponk's pocketbook on the counter beside the back door. EXT. ROAD - NIGHT (MOMENTS LATER) Cliff races down the road and HEARS:
SAMMY (O.S.) Cliff, wait!
Cliff stops in the road and allows Sammy to catch up. Sammy drops to his knees, gulping oxygen. SAMMY Tell Mama for me... Tell 'er I love her an' not to worry. I gonna be awright... But I runnin' 'way. CLIFF Where you goin'? SAMMY North... I cain't stay here no more... Tell Ma Ponk I take ten dollas out a her pocketbook... I send it back soon's I can... CLIFF Why you got to go, Sammy? SAMMY They beatin' me down, Cliff. They want me be a work horse. They want me be a slave. I rather die than spend one more day in the fields. (the tears come) I jus wants to be a man an' they won't let me... I wants to vote someday... I wants to walk in anyplace I care to an' not be called a nigga. An' not be spit on and treated like dirt... (clenched teeth) Damn it, Cliff, we human people too! Sammy chokes back his tears. Cliff.
Drags in a deep breath.
SAMMY Be good boy now... But don't let 'em beat you down. Sammy staggers to his feet. Turns and runs. Cliff watches his uncle disappear quickly into the night. The SOUND of feet pounding off down the road soon vanishes. And we:
93 LONG DISSOLVE TO: BLACK SCREEN - TIME TRANSITION Silence.
Gradually, the SOUND of a truck.
CLEVE (VO) Git you a good pattern an' follow it. Thas my advice. An' long as you work for me, be a good idea always be to work on time. Or before. FADE IN: INT. CLEVE'S TRUCK - DAY - 1962 Uncle Cleve drives his ice truck along a country highway. CLEVE Save fifty cents out a every dolla you make. An' my last piece of advice -- always take my advice. Cleve twists his head on his shoulders to face: CLIFF a big, strapping, 16-year-old sitting next to him on the seat. Cleve's serious expression turns into a warm smile. And Cliff smiles back. Yes sir. that.
CLIFF I'll remember all a
CLEVE No you won't but thas awright. Whas that book you carryin'? CLIFF Called The Iliad. Iliad.
CLEVE Whas it about?
CLIFF 'Bout a war. Happened a long time ago. More'n a thousand years before Jesus. CLEVE (marveling)
94 Thousand years 'fore Jesus... An' we still havin' wars. Makes you wonder why man cain't git 'long with each other, don't it? CLIFF Yes sir, it does. CLEVE You read a lot. Seems like I never see you, ya ain't got your head in a book. CLIFF I guess I do. CLEVE How you doin' in school? CLIFF Doin' good. CLEVE You git A's and B's? Yes sir.
CLEVE Thas good. You keep it up. limit how far you can go.
CLIFF Well sir, right now I jus want to go so far as Hollandale an' show you I can move those ice blocks aroun'. Cleve laughs and jerks Cliff's cap down over his eyes. Cliff grins. Pulls his cap back. And the two drive on together. EXT. HIGHWAY - DAY Cleve's flatbed ice truck passes through the frame. A sign posted alongside the road says HOLLANDALE. EXT. HOLLANDALE ICE FACTORY - DAY Cleve backs his truck up to the wide loading dock. He and Cliff get out and climb up onto the dock where the MANAGER, a white man, greets them.
95 MANAGER You git you a new helper, Cleve? CLEVE Yes suh, Mr. Barnes. An' he's real smart too. Ask him 'bout the Iliad sometime. MANAGER (scratching his head) The what? But Cleve just gives Cliff a wink. Throws his arm around his neck. And leads him inside the factory.
EXT. COLORED TOWN - ICEHOUSE - DAY Cliff drags 300 pound blocks of ice off the truck and stores them inside Cleve's icehouse. After a moment, he stops to catch his breath and wipe away the sweat. And he sees Cleve off talking with a WHITE MAN wearing a business suit. Cliff puts an ice chip in his mouth to suck on. And watches Cleve listening to the man who seems to be doing all the talking. LAP TO: INT. CLEVE'S TRUCK - DAY Cliff and Cleve drive up the road through colored town. Cliff's curiosity over Cleve's meeting with the white man is more than he can bear. But it doesn't appear Cleve is going to volunteer any information. Sooo... CLIFF That man you were talkin' to. don't believe I ever saw him 'round here before.
CLEVE (out the window) ICEMAN!... (back to Cliff) I reckon not. He from Greenville. End of statement. Cleve was never known to be overly informative. So it appears the lid of this jar will take some more prying.
96 CLIFF (out the window) ICEMAN!... (back inside) Had a nice car. Nice suit... I took him for a bus'nessman. CLEVE Yep... Owns the A an' D Ice Service over in Greenville. End of statement.
More urging required.
CLIFF Thas a pretty big outfit. CLEVE Got thirteen trucks, whut he tol' me. CLIFF Thas a lot a trucks... (long beat) I guess he wants you to drive one for him, huh? Whew.
CLEVE He wants to buy me out.
With this startling bit of information, Cleve brakes the truck and gets out. Cliff gets out and: EXT. ROAD - DAY (SAME) Cliff and Cleve meet at the rear of the truck. CLEVE Miz Doll be needin' thirty pounds today. CLIFF Yes sir. Cliff throws on his shoulder apron. Clamps his tongs into a 30 pound block and hefts it on his shoulder while Cleve starts carving out more blocks. Cliff starts off. But stops in the middle of the road. Turns back. CLIFF Whut you tell that fella anyway? CLEVE Whut fella?
Cliff shudders. Getting information out of Uncle Cleve is like pulling teeth. CLIFF Fella wants to buy you out. CLEVE Tol' him yes. (long pause) Same day hell freezes over. Then Cleve turns a sly grin on Cliff. Cliff smiles back. And runs up to Miss Doll's house where a sign in the window says ICE. INT. MISS DOLL'S KITCHEN - DAY (SAME) Cliff enters through the back door.
CLIFF ICEMAN, MIZ DOLL! Cliff sets the block on a leather cloth. Squats down to pull the ice pan out from the bottom of the box. And while on his hands and knees, he discovers -A pair of saddle oxfords standing right beside him. Cliff freezes. His eyes stuck on those shoes. Then he slowly lifts his gaze upward to stare directly at two black knees. Venturing further, he discovers a pretty white sun dress. And inside the dress is a tall, willowy fifteen-year-old GIRL smiling down at him, her hands clasped tightly behind her back. BERNICE I'm real sorry. We shoulda had that ol' pan emptied 'fore you ever got here. Cliff climbs to his feet balancing the water-filled pan. CLIFF Thas awright. All part of the service. Cliff turns to empty the pan in the sink. But trips over the ice block. And crashes to the floor, throwing water everywhere. Bernice gives a tiny SHRIEK. And MISS DOLL comes running. MISS DOLL
98 What in the name a Lord swee' Jesus is all the ruckus in here!? Bernice helps Cliff to a sitting position. MISS DOLL Clifton Taulbert! What're you doin' on my kitchen floor? CLIFF Deliverin' your ice, Miz Doll. Thirty pounds 'bout right? MISS DOLL Thirty pounds jus fine. yourself up from there.
Miss Doll drags Cliff to his feet. CLIFF You have a mop, Miz Doll? mop all this up for you.
MISS DOLL Never mind that. I want you meet my niece from over in the col'ny. This Bernice an' she goin' be livin' with me so she can go to high school. BERNICE Hi. CLIFF Hi. Cliff ducks his head and hurries about his business. Replacing the pan under the box. And installing the ice block. While: MISS DOLL Bernice be ridin' the bus with you on Monday, Cliff. I 'preciate you showin' her 'round so she can meet her teachers an' sech like that. Cliff, shy around girls and embarrassed by his kitchen floor acrobatics, keeps his head down and is anxious to escape. CLIFF Yes'm. (out the door)
99 I got to git back to work now. Bye. And he's gone. EXT. GLEN ALLAN HIGH SCHOOL - DAY While the all-white student body arrives at school in shiny, modern buses: NARRATION I consider one of the great injustices of segregation to be the doctrine of "separate but equal" educational opportunities. An older, beat up school bus rambles past the school and heads for the highway. NARRATION For although we lived only a few short blocks from the high school... INT. BUS - DAY Fifteen colored students are on their way to school. NARRATION ...the colored teenagers of Glen Allan were bused to a colored school in Greenville. Cliff takes advantage of his time reading a book. Looks like Ivanhoe. Beside him, cousin Bobby horses around with some friends. NARRATION The round trip of seventy miles taken each day certainly emphasized the notion of "separate..." Bernice sits a few seats ahead. She turns to look back. Cliff's eyes come off the book and catch Bernice watching him. He snaps his eyes back onto the page causing Bernice to smile at his shyness. EXT. O'BANNON HIGH SCHOOL, GREENVILLE - DAY
100 The bus pulls up and unloads in front of an old, antiquated structure. NARRATION But there was very little that was "equal" in the quality of our schools. INT. CLASSROOM - DAY MISS JACKSON teaches Cliff's class during: NARRATION Except maybe the devotion of our teachers which was extraordinary. Determined as they were to better our lives through knowledge, we were urged to study hard and learn all we could. INT. MA PONK'S KITCHEN - NIGHT Cliff studies at the table. NARRATION And study I did. Taking advantage of Miss Maybry's offer to check out books for me, I would make long lists... EXT. MISS MAYBRY'S MANSION - DAY Cliff mows the grass alongside the driveway when he HEARS the squeal of rubber and sees Miss Maybry's Cadillac barreling up the long path from the road. Cliff winces and leaps back as she slams on the brakes and stops the car with two wheels off the edge of the cement surface. (NOTE: The garage door is pocked with busted boards and bumper scars from prior events.) Miss Maybry gets out of the car. Adjusts her hat. presents Cliff with a stack of library books.
NARRATION ...which she would fill with considerable enthusiasm. LAP TO: EXT. UPTOWN - STEIN'S MARKET - DAY
101 Cleve's ice truck is parked out front. loading a dolly with 50 pound blocks.
Cliff and Cleve are
NARRATION But in addition to my school studies... I continued to learn life's lessons as well. MR. STEIN, a white man, comes running out of the store wearing his apron. MR. STEIN Hold on, Cleve. I got to stop you right there. I ain't takin' delivery today. CLEVE Three hunerd pounds, Mr. Stein. Thas your usual order on a Friday. MR. STEIN I know but I got some bad news. I won't be buyin' my ice from you anymore. I'm sorry. Cleve is stunned.
Cliff can't believe it.
CLEVE Well, Mr. Stein... I dunno whut you gonna do for ice then... MR. STEIN I'm gonna start buyin' from another outfit. A an' D bringin' in their trucks from Greenville now. I'm buyin' from them. Cleve is momentarily speechless. out of him.
Like the wind was kicked
CLEVE Well suh, if it's price we're talkin' 'bout... MR. STEIN No, no. It ain't the price or service or nothin' like that. CLEVE It jus that A an' D's a white man. Tha 'bout the size of it? MR. STEIN
102 (embarrassed) I hate like the devil to do this, Cleve. You're a good, honest man. But sometimes there's pressure put on us... Cleve is already at work loading the big blocks back onto his truck. CLEVE You don't got to tell me 'bout pressure, Mr. Stein. Guess I know somethin' 'bout that. Mr. Stein is out of words. He returns inside his store. And while Cliff and the Iceman strain their backs to get the heavy blocks back on the truck, a shiny white A & D ICE SERVICE truck rolls past. Cliff raises up to watch it. NARRATION I believe it was at that moment... that very instant in time that I realized... change was coming. LAP TO: EXT. BAPTIST CHURCH - NIGHT Colored folk descend on the church from all directions. packs and individually. A solemn HYMN is rising up from inside. We get the sense that this is no ordinary Wednesday night service. The worshippers are mostly silent. Somber. Almost scared. Three deacons stand outside the door keeping watch as people scurry past them into the building.
NARRATION There was something in the wind. 'You can't keep people under a thumb long as we've been and something not happen,' my Uncle Melvin once told Sammy. And by the fall of 1962, we all were beginning to believe that something was going to happen. INT. BAPTIST CHURCH - NIGHT (SAME)
103 PAN the solemn faces singing, "Father I stretch my hands to Thee. No other help I know. If Thou withdraw Thyself from me, where other shall I go?" As people continue to crowd into the church, we find Ma Ponk, Cliff, Mary, Moses Taulbert, Poppa and others aligned on one pew. Bernice and Miss Doll are present. Aunt Lurlean, Mr. Will, Mr. Walter, etc. are all here. Even Uncle Cleve is standing in the rear. Preacher Hurn is bent over his pulpit in silent prayer. And when the hymn finally ends, he raises up and looks to the back of the room. One of the Deacons gives him a nod. Then closes and bars the doors. And everyone is as nervous as a treed raccoon by the time Preacher bows his head once more and offers a prayer: PREACHER HURN This evenin', O Father, we come to Thee, knees bent and bodies bowed to ask You to stretch out Thy hands a mercy and protect us in whut we are 'bout to do. In Jesus most precious name we pray, amen. We HEAR some "Amens" echoed through the room. And Preacher Hurn nods to Deacon Joe Maxey who steps up and takes over the pulpit. JOE MAXEY I'll be leavin' tonight for Baltimore. Guess y'all know why. I'm goin' to a NAACP convention there to hear whut they got to say 'bout equal rights. We HEAR mumbling from the audience. "'Bout time." keep him." "Watch yourself, Deacon." JOE MAXEY I need your prayers. Don't fear for me. God has gone on before me an' the Devil cain't do me no harm. BILL CROCKETT stands up and calls out: CROCKETT Devil can do a lot a harm. against it.
104 VOICES call him down: "Sit down, Bill." "We waited long enough." "We want some a them equal rights." GEORGE STANLEY rises. GEORGE STANLEY I'm with Bill Crockett. Now what we got to complain 'bout anyway? We got peace with the whites. They don't bother us too much an' we don't bother them. You go off an' start that NAACP talk an' we sure to have trouble. This rouses even louder PROTEST. be arguing both sides at once.
And now everyone seems to
POPPA has been subdued and silent throughout all of this. Tears misting in his eyes. Until at last, he slowly rises to his feet. And as his presence is gradually noticed, the argument slowly diminishes until there is only silence. POPPA All men created equal whut the U.S. Constitution say. But we ain't been equal for over two hunerd years... It scald me t'hear folk say we oughta be happy with whut we got. Well, seems to me those folk think that a tar paper roof, some beans in the pot an' a pat on the head by a white man is 'bout all they deserve. But lemme ask you something. How many white folk you know would live way we do?... That ain't equal! Positive REACTIONS from the crowd. right, for sure..."
POPPA We gonna always work for the man long as we don't do something 'bout it. Even when a colored man do own a bus'ness, they try take it 'way from him. Bro Cleve for one. He already lost all the white bus'ness in town. An' now they tryin' to steal 'way the colored. How many you they
105 threaten to fire from the job 'less you buy your ice from A an' D from now on? Les see, now, show yourself. How many? LILLIE SHORT slowly rises to her feet. LILLIE Miz Strickland over to Wildwood Plantation where I cook... she tol' me buy my ice from A an' D or lose my job. Uncle Cleve at the rear of the church goes rigid. tightens.
POPPA Whut you do, Lillie? LILLIE (long beat) I quit. Cleve steps up.
CLEVE I cain't 'low that! I don't want nobody lose they job on 'count a me. I jus quit the ice bus'ness, thas all. Let 'em have it all. POPPA No, Cleve! It ain't right! They ain't a soul in this room wantin' you to quit. SHOUTS OF AGREEMENT from the crowd. POPPA We want you to fight! Cause if they beat you... then they ain't a chance for any of us. Cleve considers all this. Drops his head in remorse. A long anguished moment. Then Poppa steps out into the aisle and moves to the communion table below the pulpit. Reaches down for the collection baskets. POPPA I suggest we take up a collection... for Brother Maxey
106 to help him on his long tonight.
Poppa starts the baskets. A HYMN begins. deep in their pockets as we:
And people reach LAP TO:
EXT. HOLLANDALE ICE FACTORY - DAY Cleve backs his ice truck up to the dock. He and Cliff get out and are met by the Manager standing on the dock. MANAGER I don't quite know how to tell you this, Cleve. But I cain't sell you ice no more. Cleve is shocked.
Can't believe he heard right.
CLEVE Cain't sell me ice! Mr. Barnes, you don't mean that. MANAGER (grim) 'Fraid so, Cleve. CLEVE I been buyin' my ice here more'n thirty years! You tell me why I cain't no more! MANAGER (fidgets) Nothin' personal, Cleve. I swear to you. It's... well it's jus bus'ness, thas all. CLEVE Mr. Barnes, suh, we got to talk 'bout this now... MANAGER No we don't. Now I real sorry it had to come to this. But I thank you to move your truck on out a here an' not come back. The Manager turns back inside the factory. studies the desperation on Cleve's face. EXT. COUNTRY HIGHWAY - DAY
Cleve's truck rolls towards us up the road. NARRATION Uncle Cleve found a factory that would sell him ice. It was owned by a Jewish man. But it was in Cleveland, Mississippi, almost sixty miles away. The truck scoots past us at twenty-five mph. And CAMERA ARCS WITH IT to find a highway sign. CLEVELAND - 18. NARRATION Uncle Cleve would make the trip every other day. And even though he had lost his biggest customers... EXT. COLORED TOWN - DAY Cleve's truck makes it's twice daily route. NARRATION ...the colored community continued to buy from him. The truck stops. Cleve gets out. Hangs a 30 pound block over his shoulder and carries it to a house where Lillie Short opens the door. NARRATION Many people, like Lillie Short, lost their jobs because of it. But with all the talk about civil rights going around... there was a strength and hope among the people I had never known before. Cleve and Lillie disappear inside the house. And an A & D ICE SERVICE truck rolls down the road from the other direction. NARRATION So Glen Allan found itself in the midst of an ice war. It was the good ol' white boy establishment... set against the will and determination of a race of people who just wouldn't take it anymore.
108 EXT. COTTON FIELD - DAY Field hands pick cotton. alongside cousin Bobby.
Among them we find Cliff working
NARRATION Unfortunately... I was among the casualties of that war. Though Uncle Cleve would never lay me off... I knew business was bad for him. So I quit... and had no place else to go but the fields. Cliff works at a standard pace. But Bobby plucks cotton at twice the rate. His sack is full and bulging. He's an expert picker. CLIFF Wish you'd come back to school, Bobby. BOBBY No need to, cousin. I gots through the tenth grade. What else they got at that school to teach me anyhow? CLIFF They got a diploma to give you if you finish. BOBBY Don't need a diploma to work the fields. CLIFF Don't need a brain to work the fields. Bobby halts and turns a hard gaze on Cliff. BOBBY Cliff. You smart. You like books. An' you like learnin'. You good at it... Only thing I do is field work. It ain't the best job. But it's whut I can feel an' touch an' do with my own two hands... Lemme be proud a somethin'. Even if it only pickin' cotton.
109 The two boys eyes are locked together. Cliff is visibly touched by Bobby's dignity. A long moment. Then: STRAW BOSS (O.S.) Hey there, Bobby. The boys snap their heads around to find the Straw Boss coming down the row. BOBBY Afternoon, Boss. STRAW BOSS You gonna give me four hunerd pounds today? BOBBY Yes suh, I am. Four hunerd easy. But I better go an' dump my sack now or I won't make it. STRAW BOSS Don't stan' here
Go on then. jawin' at me.
Bobby turns and runs off down the row with his sack. Boss laughs.
STRAW BOSS RUN, BOY! Straw Boss shakes his head and marvels. STRAW BOSS Tha boy 'nother Cooter Man. Wish I had fifty more jus like 'im. Cliff lets the words sink in. Then twists his head around to watch his cousin race down the row as fast as he can trying to please the man. And we: LAP TO: EXT. MISS DOLL'S HOUSE - NIGHT Bernice sits on the porch steps in her robe. She is toweling her wet hair when -- someone strolling by on the road is SINGING A HYMN. Bernice peers out into the darkness. Who is that?
BERNICE Who's out there?
110 CLIFF'S VOICE Iceman. And 17-year-old Cliff steps close to the gate so the porch light can hit him. BERNICE Clifton Taulbert, what're you doing sneaking 'round the dark like that? CLIFF Jus enjoying a warm spring evenin's all. Like some company? Bernice wraps the towel up onto her head.
BERNICE Awright. Cliff enters the gate. Comes and sits down next to Bernice on the steps. A silent moment as they study the moon together. Then: BERNICE Graduation in a week. What're you gonna do with your life, Cliff? CLIFF Don't know for sure... might go to college.
BERNICE (stunned) College! CLIFF Don't you think I could do it? BERNICE Well, sure I do. You're the top student in your class only... college jus seem so far 'way. CLIFF (growing solemn) Alls I know I cain't stay, Bernice. Nothin' here for me. My Uncle Sammy and Uncle Melvin knew it. My own daddy knew it too. BERNICE
111 I thought Moses Taulbert was your daddy. CLIFF Moses my stepdad. My real one run off jus after I was born. Went north, I s'pect. No one knows for sure. Bernice cradles her chin in her hands and props her elbows on her knees. Gazes at the moon. BERNICE You think the north is really good as folks say it is? CLIFF Naw. Folks exaggerate. But I do think things can git better for us. Even down here. I believe someday white folks gonna have to accept our rights same as theirs. An' we finally gonna be free to do everything we ever wanted. Bernice twists her head around to Cliff. BERNICE You're a dreamer Clifton Taulbert. CLIFF Sure I am. Cause thas something they cain't take 'way from us. Bernice ponders this. Touches Cliff's hand. at her then turns his face to the sky. And:
A LONG SHOT - THE PORCH The two young dreamers sit on the steps in the porch light and dream together. LAP TO: EXT. COTTON FIELD - CLOUDY DAY Field hands gather around the back of Mr. Walter's truck where the Straw Boss stands on the tail end. Wind whips around him. Clouds are gathering. A storm is brewing. And when twenty or so hands have collected behind the truck, Straw Boss announces:
112 STRAW BOSS I have been instructed to inform you... all hands who wish to continue to work in these fields... must agree to buy their ice from the A an' D Ice Service. Anyone refusin' to comply... is immediately discharged. There's a long, long moment to allow it all to soak in. Then colored faces begin to turn and look at each other. One MAN asks another: MAN Wha discharge mean? OTHER MAN Mean fired! The first Man considers this for a moment. Then lays down his hoe. Moves to the truck and begins to climb aboard. A WOMAN drops her hoe and follows him. Then others do the same. A light sprinkle of rain begins to fall. And soon, the whole group is lined up to board the truck. Straw Boss is dumbfounded. The rain falls harder now. And the truck fills with people getting soaked to the bone. Straw Boss is finally crowded out and climbs down to stand in the field. Now the skies open up and rain comes down like buckshot. Mr. Walter is helping folks to climb aboard. He turns to Straw Boss and says with a grin: MR. WALTER You picked a hell of a day to make that 'nouncement... Boss. Mr. Walter chuckles to himself and helps Lillie Short into the truck. Water is streaming down his face. MR. WALTER Hello, Miz Lillie. Sure a fine day to be colored, ain't it? Miss Lillie nods and smiles. And as the people continue to climb aboard, leaving Straw Boss standing alone in the muddy field, we PULL BACK to find all the fields emptying of workers. Other workers are streaming off down the road back to town. And truckloads full are pulling away. LAP TO:
EXT. R.R. CROSSING - DAY The barrier is down. The lights flash and a bell CLANGS. Cars and field trucks are lined up on either side of the tracks waiting for the train to pass. NARRATION The summer I left home was the summer the great Glen Allan ice war finally ended. Cleve's old truck rattles up and stops in line. covers the huge stack of ice loaded on the bed.
NARRATION It was also the year the Illinois Central Railroad stopped coming to Greenville forever. Cleve gets out of his truck and stands next to it. Watches the train as it starts to clack through the crossing. INT. TRAIN CAR Cliff sits at a window, watching the countryside passing by. NARRATION That fact made me among the last passengers to ever ride north on the train. Cliff's eyes fall on Cleve standing tall and proud beside his old truck. Cleve seems to know Cliff is aboard and this is his farewell. Cliff twists his head around to watch Cleve as long as he can. EXT. R.R. CROSSING - ON CLEVE watching the train clatter away. INT. TRAIN CAR Cliff, at last, adjusts himself in his seat. his gaze out to the view. NARRATION Glen Allan could no longer be my home. My dreams and ambitions
114 stretched far beyond the resources of a small southern town. Cliff holds a book in his lap. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Stride Toward Freedom by
NARRATION So I accepted an invitation to live with distant relatives in St. Louis. I was not sure what I would do in such a city. But I was determined to look for work and someday go to college. TIGHT ON CLIFF as he rubs a tear from his eye. NARRATION But despite my great excitement, the pain and sadness of leaving home would not soon be forgotten. For it was the people I would miss. FLASHBACK - UNCLE CLEVE from an earlier scene, chopping ice and laughing at a joke. NARRATION Uncle Cleve and his strong example. FLASHBACK - MISS MAYBRY handing Cliff a stack of books. NARRATION Miss Maybry supplying me with books and forever urging me to get an education. But most of all... FLASHBACK - MARY trying the reindeer sweater on Cliff and giving him a big hug and kiss. NARRATION My mother... who did not raise me, but loved me as if she had. FLASHBACK - MA PONK in an earlier scene; laughing joyously.
115 NARRATION The strong, gentle determination of Ma Ponk which would remain a part of me forever... FLASHBACK - POPPA an earlier scene; laughing. NARRATION And Poppa's great wisdom and loving nature that I would use as a pattern to guide my own life by... BACK TO SCENE where Cliff's gaze is on a passing cotton field and the dozens of workers bent over their hoes. NARRATION All those wonderful, familiar faces would stay behind... remaining in a world that I was no longer a part. (beat) And as my train clanked and groaned over the gravel railbed, I wondered if living up north would be all that I had dreamed. Cliff settles back and ponders his future. NARRATION With the security of family fading far away behind me, I clung to promises I had heard all my life... from those who had nurtured me in Glen Allan, Mississippi... once upon a time... when we were colored. EXT. R.R. TRACKS - DAY The caboose clatters through the crossing. The barriers rise. Traffic begins to cross the tracks once more. Cleve's ice truck rambles through the crossing and we watch it down the road until it's gone. And: FADE OUT. THE END
ELDER JOE YOUNG, POPPA MAMA PEARL - Poppa's wife. MA PONK - Poppa's daughter. MARY - Poppa's granddaughter. CLIFTON TAULBERT - Mary's son. MOSES TAULBERT - Mary's husband WILLIE JONES - Cliff's natural father AUNT LURLEAN - Ma Ponk's sister. UNCLE SAMMY - Lurlean's son. UNCLE MELVIN - Ma Ponk's grown son. PREACHER HURN ALICE, MISS DOLL, COUSIN BEAUTY - Town ladies. COUSIN BOBBY - Cliff's cousin