While he was growing up in Mississippi, his professional prospects and even his options for self-expression were limited; for a black man, defying a white person in power could have fatal consequences. A vivid measure of the distance Freeman has traveled occurred in 2000 when he took part in the tribute to Eastwood at the Kennedy Center Honors annual gala in Washington, D.C. At the dinner, says one source, an intermediary approached Freeman with a request from Mississippi senator (and former segregationist) Trent Lott—could Lott come to the star’s table to meet him? “I don’t see any reason why,” Freeman calmly replied. “Tell him you can’t find me.”
Freeman’s ancestors worked this soil, and his mother is buried on his land, where her modest house still stands, a reminder of where he came from. “You know, you go around the world, and you have eaten in the best restaurants and stayed in the best hotels,” he says. “But here, there is peace and quiet and solitude. And the realization that this has always represented safety.” What kind of safety? Freeman taps the side of his head. “Psychic safety. So I tell people I’m where I’m supposed to be.”
West Coast editor Nancy Griffin profiled Helen Mirren for the March & April issue.