Morgan Freeman views love, hate and the tribal quest for humanity


Last season's "The Story of God" was a terrific documentary series. Now the same people -- including Morgan Freeman -- are back for "The Story of Us," another show that's huge in scope and high in quality. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Morgan Freeman has
become our consummate authority figure.

He's been a senator,
a vice-president, speaker of the house and chief justice ... a
sergeant major, a lieutenant, a colonel ... a professor, a judge,
several doctors, a shiek and Batman's research chief.

He's also been
Malcolm X and Nelson Mandela. He's been a messenger from God once and
God twice. When he speaks, we listen. And now we hear a central
notion of his “Story of Us” documentary series: There are a lot
of good people out there.

But what about
growing up as a black kid in 1940s Mississippi? Surely, he felt
hatred then.

“Not hatred,”
Freeman said firmly. “Never. Segregation was numbing, but I never
felt hatred.”

Instead, he said, he
felt love. As an infant, he was sent to his father's parents. “I
was raised by a small group of people, It rook a village, really ....
Everyone in my neighborhood knew everyone else.”

It was a warm family
that encouraged him. At 9, he had the lead in a school play .... At
12, he won a state drama competition .... In high school, he did a
radio show ... Throughout, he savored movies.

“I grew up in the
movies – watching them and not seeing enough of me, none of me,”
Freeman said. “So my film career is actually predicated on being
able to see me.”

That would take a
while. He joined the Air Force in the mid-50s; told there were no
black pilots, he became a radar repairman. He studied theater and
dance in San Francisco and recalls a time in 1962 when he was
crashing with friends, penniless and homeless.

That comes to mind
as he discusses “Story of Us,” which tackles a different theme
each week. The opener, on freedom, includes a man born into North
Korean slavery, a woman imprisoned in Russia and Albert Woodfox, who
seems at peace after 43 years of solitary confinement in Louisiana.

“I grew up in the
South, single-parent situations, having the opportunity to take the
wrong path,” Freeman said. “When I sit with Albert, (I feel):
''There, but for the grace of really good luck (go I).”

Others in the series
are people he can admire from a distance. Consider:

-- Joshua Coombes, a
London hair stylist who gives free haircuts to the homeless. “The
greatest feeling you have is when you share love with someone,”
Coombes said. “Often, that's reserved for family or a loved one.
But it's about trying to stretch out a bit and actually make that
work in communities.”

-- Megan
Phelps-Roper, whose grandfather (the late Rev. Fred Phelps) preached
hatred of gays, even protesting at funerals. She's broken from her
family, a change that she says came after social-media conversations
with people. “They are tired of endless yelling and lack of
communication.”

Such divides are
part of human instinct, Freeman said. “We are naturally tribal.”

But the second hour
(on peace) views successful efforts to blend opposite sides in
Rwanda, Ethiopia, Belfast and beyond. And not included in the series
is an example closer to his life:

In 1991, Freeman
moved back to his boyhood home of Charleston – a Mississippi town
of 2,200 that had two proms, one black, one white. In '97, he offered
to pay for an integrated prom; the offer was finally accepted in 2008
– amid some dissent, including a small, private prom for whites.

“It was the
parents, not the kids, who caused the problem,” said Lori McCreary,
the producer of “Story of Us” and some other Freeman films.

The kids mostly
partied peacefully in Charleston; the grown-up eventually got
together in Rwanda and Ethiopia. Sometimes, hatred fades.

-- “The Story of
Us,” 9 p.m. ET Wednesdays, National Geographic; reruns are 11 p.m.
Wednesdays, 10 p.m. Sundays, 8 p.m. the next Wednesday.

-- Starts Oct. 11
with “The March of Freedom”; Oct. 18 is “The Fight for Peace.”