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CNN PEOPLE IN THE NEWS
Profiles of William Rehnquist, Laura Bush and Morgan Freeman
Aired June 18, 2005 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: Next on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, he presides over the most powerful court in the land, but his personal history is surprising.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: When he was a young lawyer in Arizona, there was a suggestion that he had tried to intimidate black voters out of voting.
ANNOUNCER: What you don't know about the chief justice. And what's ahead if he and other aging justices step down?
NINA TOTENBERG, NPR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: There's an entire possibility that Roe versus Wade would be reversed.
ANNOUNCER: Inside the chambers of Chief Justice William Rehnquist and the U.S. Supreme Court.
Then, she lives at the nation's most prestigious address, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Known for her trademark grace and down-to-Earth style.
LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY: 9:00 o'clock. Mr. Excitement here is sound asleep.
ANNOUNCER: This year, Americans have gotten a glimpse of her lighter side.
L. BUSH: And I'm watching "Desperate Housewives."
ANNOUNCER: But her number one priority? Standing by her husband.
L. BUSH: I think there's something about politics that has strengthened our marriage, for sure.
ANNOUNCER: From small-town librarian to United States first lady. Laura Welch Bush.
MORGAN FREEMAN, ACTOR: You want to get to the title, maybe he's not the one to take you there.
ANNOUNCER: His Oscar-winning performance and unforgettable roles have placed him directly in Hollywood's hot spotlight.
When Morgan Freeman wants to cool off, you'll never guess where he heads.
FREEMAN: People ask me when I move back home, listen, oh my God, you can live anyplace in the world you want.
ANNOUNCER: Driving with Mr. Freeman.
Now, from the pages of "People" magazine and the network for news, a look at the most fascinating PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.
PAULA ZAHN, HOST: Hi, welcome to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. I'm Paula Zahn. For nearly 20 years, William Rehnquist has guided the Supreme Court as chief justice. In that time, he's been praised by his fellow court members for being both efficient and fair. But at 80, Rehnquist is fighting cancer, and many observers believe he may soon step down.
With the possibility of retirement looming, a look at Chief Justice Rehnquist, his life, his career, and how the high court could change after he's gone.
WILLIAM REHNQUIST, CHIEF JUSTICE, SUPREME COURT: Raise your right hand and repeat after me.
ZAHN (voice-over): Mention the chief justice of the Supreme Court, and this is what usually springs to mind.
GEORGE HERBERT WALKER BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I, George Herbert Walker Bush...
WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I, William Jefferson Clinton...
GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I, George Walker Bush, do solemnly swear.
ZAHN: Eighty-year-old William Hubbs Rehnquist. As chief justice, he's wrangled eight headstrong colleagues and won praise as an able administrator, even from people who disagree with his ideology.
TOOBIN: The touchstone of Rehnquist's tenure on the Supreme Court over more than three decades is that he hasn't really changed very much. He is a law-and-order conservative, and that's what he's always been.
ZAHN: A law-and-order conservative who came of cage in a staunchly Republican Milwaukee suburb.
After World War II, with a honorable discharge from the Air Corps, and two masters degrees in hand, Rehnquist graduated at the top of his Stanford Law School class. Number three in his class was Sandra Day. They dated briefly, and their paths would cross again. But Rehnquist married Natalie Ann Cornell. They met in Washington, the year after law school. She was employed at the CIA. He was a clerk at the Supreme Court.
These were good times for the young lawyer. But a memo Rehnquist wrote at the time supporting segregation would surface years later and jeopardize his career.
TOTENBERG: He had written a memorandum for the justice he clerked for, urging that -- that schools be kept segregated, that segregation was constitutional. He said he wrote it at the behest of the justice.
ZAHN: But others say Rehnquist was expressing his own views.
JOHN DEAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: It was a pretty far- fetched response, and I don't think anybody who's ever looked at the memo or looked at the circumstances really doubts that this was Rehnquist's position.
ZAHN: By 1955, Rehnquist was a successful lawyer in Arizona. He was also active in Republican politics.
Once again, his actions would saw the seeds for future trouble.
TOOBIN: When he was a young lawyer in Arizona, there was a suggestion that he had tried to intimidate black voters out of voting.
TINSLEY YARBROUGH, AUTHOR, "THE REHNQUIST COURT AND THE CONSTITUTION": I'm sure his position would be that he was simply trying to see to it that people who voted were indeed qualified in his view to vote.
ZAHN: In the late 1960s, the Nixon White House recruited the grassroots Republican to Washington. He worked in the Justice Department. Part of his job, screening potential Supreme Court nominees.
At first, the president wasn't impressed with the new hire, an intellectual known for his un-gamely glasses, mismatched suits and long side burns.
DEAN: He said, "who is this guy, Rehnchburg?" He really never could get the name straight. And I said, "Bill Rehnquist." And he said, "spell it." And I spelled it. He said, "is he Jewish?" And I said, "no, no, I think he is Scandinavian." And he said, "well, he looks like a clown."
ZAHN: Over time, Rehnquist's clout grew in the White House. When two openings came up on the Supreme Court, the president nominated Lewis Powell to fill one vacancy. His choice for the second slot caught Rehnquist off guard.
DEAN: I don't think anybody was more surprised than Bill Rehnquist to learn that he was being considered. The attorney general called him into the office and said, hey, the president's going to select you for the Supreme Court.
ZAHN: In 1972, 47-year-old Rehnquist became an associate justice on a decidedly liberal Supreme Court. Among the first cases he heard, Roe versus Wade. He voted against legalized abortion. He voted against affirmative action. As the court's perennial soul dissenter, he developed a nickname, the Lone Ranger.
RONALD REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm pleased to announce my intention to nominate William H. Rehnquist, currently an associate justice of the Supreme Court, as the new chief justice of the United States.
ZAHN: President Reagan admired Rehnquist's fervent conservatism. When Chief Justice Burger stepped down in 1986, the president nominated the Lone Ranger to take the reins.
REHNQUIST: I will support and defend the Constitution...
ZAHN: As chief justice, Rehnquist presided over a court that became increasingly conservative.
CLARENCE THOMAS, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: So help me God.
REHNQUIST: The Senate will convene as a court of impeachment.
ZAHN: He also oversaw the impeachment of President Clinton.
REHNQUIST: Our work as a court of impeachment is now done.
ZAHN: It was an unfamiliar role. Before becoming a justice, Rehnquist had never before even served as a judge.
Throughout his tenure, Rehnquist has faced setbacks. In 1991, his wife of 38 years passed away from cancer. This past year, it was his own cancer, of the thyroid gland, which ultimately slowed the chief down. During the weeks of chemo, he worked mostly from home.
TOOBIN: In the months of the chief's illness, there has not been a dramatic change in the court one way or another. He has voted in cases where his vote has made a difference.
ZAHN: Even now, in the twilight of his career, Rehnquist takes his responsibilities seriously. Despite his illness, Rehnquist presided over cases in this last term, and this past January, donned the striped-sleeved robe to fulfill his most visible role.
REHNQUIST: So help me God.
GEORGE W. BUSH: So help me God.
ZAHN: When we come back -- changes in the court and shifts in the legal landscape.
TOTENBERG: If more justices were to retire, there's an entire possibility that Roe versus Wade would be reversed.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ANNOUNCER: We now return to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Keep focused on Jesus Christ!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have every right to go in this clinic!
ZAHN: They have the power to shape policy and inflame passions.
From abortion to the death penalty, even to the 2000 presidential election. The nine Supreme Court justices have the final say, often through a narrow 5-4 vote.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is what democracy looks like!
TOOBIN: This court knows each other very well. They know that Justice Stevens, Justice Ginsburg, Justice Breyer are going to be on the more liberal side. They know that the chief justice, Justice Thomas, Scalia are going to be on the conservative side. The three swing courts on the court, almost always, are Anthony Kennedy, David Souter and above all, Sandra Day O'Connor.
STEPHEN BREYER, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: I, Stephen Breyer, do solemnly swear...
ZAHN: The last time there was an opening on the court, 11 years ago, Clinton nominee Stephen Breyer won easy approval from the Senate. Now, the 66-year-old former Watergate prosecutor sits on the court's liberal wing.
TOTENBERG: He is certainly on the so-called left wing of the court, but that's a pretty un-leftish left wing.
ZAHN: Eighty-five-year-old John Paul Stevens also sits on the liberal wing. But when the private pilot joined the court 30 years ago, he was considered a moderate conservative.
TOTENBERG: Now, I don't think Justice Stevens has changed dramatically. It's the center of the court that's changed dramatically.
ZAHN: At 72, Ruth Bader Ginsburg rounds out the liberal side. Before becoming a justice in 1993, Ginsburg argued women's rights cases before the Supreme Court. It's an issue that hit close to home during her earliest days as a lawyer.
TOTENBERG: Justice Ginsburg was recommended for a Supreme Court clerkship and didn't get it because she was a woman. She even hid the fact that she was pregnant when she was a young law professor, because she had seen people, women, lose their jobs when it was discovered that they were pregnant.
ZAHN: One of the key swing voters also had an uphill climb. In 1981, President Reagan made Sandra Day O'Connor, the court's first woman nominee. She had been a judge and an Arizona state senator. But back in 1952, when she finished third in her Stanford law class, O'Connor only received job offers for secretarial posts. Now, at 75, she heads the court's centrist block.
SUSAN LOW BLOCH, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY LAW CENTER: Whatever side she votes on usually wins. She is usually the fifth vote either on the conservative or the liberal side, depending on the issue. So everyone argues toward her.
ZAHN: Two other justices fill out the court's centrist block, often swinging the majority where O'Connor doesn't. Anthony Kennedy, a law-and-order conservative with a liberal record on civil liberties, and David Souter, a Bush nominee, who ended up supporting affirmative action and abortion. He even ruled against the Republicans in 2000's Bush versus Gore.
TOTENBERG: I would call him a sort of a New England, old- fashioned, civil liberties conservative. That is not the kind of conservative that Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas are.
ZAHN: Clarence Thomas sits firmly on the court's conservative wing. An earnest schoolboy, born into poverty, he considered the priesthood before dabbling in black nationalism. As a law student at Yale, Thomas honed his ideology.
KEN FOSKETT, AUTHOR, "JUDGING THOMAS": He is by nature a contrarian. And at the time that he got out of Yale in the 1970s, the black leadership at that time was pushing a number of policies that he just started to think about and took exception to. One was affirmative action. One was school busing. And the other was welfare and entitlements.
ZAHN: Thomas developed an impressive resume. He headed the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and served as a federal judge. But as the 43-year-old got ready for his confirmation hearing, a storm was brewing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Professor, do you swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?
ANITA HILL: I do.
After a brief discussion of work, he would turn the conversation to a discussion of sexual matters.
ZAHN: Anita Hill, a subordinate of Thomas at the EEOC, went in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and graphically testified that Thomas had harassed her. He denied the charges.
THOMAS: It is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves.
ZAHN: In the end, Thomas won approval by a razor-thin margin.
The court's other conservative voice, Reagan nominee Antonin Scalia, is outspoken, brash, and at the same time, camera-shy.
ANTONIN SCALIA, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: Could we stop the cameras?
ZAHN: President Bush's mentioned Scalia, the 69-year-old father of nine, as a possible successor to Chief Justice Rehnquist.
YARBROUGH: My understanding is that Justice Scalia would like that, and is, in fact, lobbying for it. But I'm not certain that that would be a shrewd move on the president's part, unless he is simply spoiling for a confirmation fight.
ZAHN: If Rehnquist does step down, the court's political makeup is not likely to change.
BLOCH: Assuming that President Bush picks somebody fairly conservative, it will not change the results much, because Rehnquist is a conservative. If he gets replaced by another conservative, it will stay the same balance it has right now.
ZAHN: But one more vacancy could dramatically shift the legal landscape.
TOTENBERG: If Justice Stevens, for example, were to retire, it could make an enormous difference, and if more justices like Justice Ginsburg, for example, were to retire, she being in her 70s, or Justice O'Connor, she being in her late 70s, there is an entire possibility that Roe versus Wade would be reversed.
ZAHN: Like the legal system itself, the Supreme Court changes with time. But while the laws are public record, the court itself remains enigmatic. The justices generally carry out their duties behind closed doors.
But what goes on behind those closed doors has a lasting impact on the hot button issues that ignite controversy across the country.
ZAHN: The Supreme Court's current term wraps up at the end of this month.
ANNOUNCER: Coming up, she's been the soft-spoken woman behind the president. Now, she's stepping out on her own, showing America a different side.
L. BUSH: One night after George went to bed, Lynne Cheney, Condi Rice, Karen Hughes and I went to Chippendale's.
ANNOUNCER: First lady Laura Bush.
And later, Morgan Freeman's got the blues, and he couldn't be happier.
FREEMAN: One of the smartest moves I have made in life is to come back home.
ANNOUNCER: And you won't believe where home is, when PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues.
ANNOUNCER: Welcome back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.
ZAHN: If there's one person President Bush turns to more than any other for support, it is his wife, Laura. He's been turning to her a lot lately. She stole the show at this year's White House correspondents' dinner, poking fun at her husband. And she's just completed a goodwill tour of the Middle East, where President Bush enjoys very little popular support.
To many, this is a new side of the first lady, a former Texas librarian who, until recently, has kept a very low political profile. Here's Soledad O'Brien.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please welcome Mrs. Laura Bush!
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): First lady Laura Bush, looking picture-perfect by her husband's side as they celebrate his second term in office. She has developed a reputation for being reserved and soft-spoken, a supportive wife who finds strength in her 28-year marriage to George W. Bush.
L. BUSH: I think there's something about politics that has strengthened our marriage for sure, and really made us that much more appreciative of each other and appreciative of the fact that we do have a strong marriage.
GEORGE W. BUSH: And so the city slicker asked the old guy how to get to the nearest town...
L. BUSH: Not that old joke. Not again.
O'BRIEN: Now, after more than four years in the White House, the one-time shy librarian from Midland, Texas, has grown into her role, becoming much more outgoing and showing America her lighter side.
L. BUSH: One night, after George went to bed, Lynne Cheney, Condi Rice, Karen Hughes and I went to Chippendale's. I won't tell you what happened, but Lynne's Secret Service code name is now Dollar Bill.
O'BRIEN: At this year's White House correspondents' dinner, Laura Bush poked fun at her husband, and recounted a typical Sunday evening at home.
L. BUSH: I am married to the president of the United States, and here's our typical evening: 9:00 o'clock, Mr. Excitement here is sound asleep. And I'm watching "Desperate Housewives."
O'BRIEN: Many political watchers credit Laura Bush with softening her husband's image and helping him win another term in the White House.
ANN GERHART, BIOGRAPHER: She is the perfect wife. She knows exactly how to calibrate her public appearance and her public pronouncements. She does nothing but enhance his image.
O'BRIEN: Though she appears more comfortable in public, the 58- year-old first lady is an admitted introvert, whose favorite pastime is simply reading.
Her reluctant life in politics began on a blind date 28 years ago.
L. BUSH: What I liked about George when I first met him was I liked his personality. I liked that he gave me a lot of energy because of the energy of his personality.
GEORGE W. BUSH: I saw an elegant, a beautiful woman, who turned out not only to be elegant and beautiful, but very smart and willing to put up with my rough edges, and I must confess has smoothed them off over time.
L. BUSH: Not all of them.
O'BRIEN: Laura Welch Bush was raised as an only child in the small West Texas oil town of Midland. Her father built houses while her mother kept the company books and the home, 2500 Humble Street.
L. BUSH: I remember the big sky. Midland has a huge sky. But mostly, I think I remember feeling of being really sheltered. You were free in Midland to ride your bike anywhere and go all around town by yourself, and I think that was good. I think that was also a lot of security for all of us that grew up there.
O'BRIEN: If Laura Welch's childhood was idyllic, sheltered and safe, her late teens were tempered by tragedy. On November 5th, 1963, at age 17, Laura Welch drove through an intersection and hit an oncoming car driven by a close friend. He died. No charges were brought against Laura.
JANE SIMMS PODESTA, WASHINGTON BUREAU, "PEOPLE" MAGAZINE: I think she was terribly saddened by the death of her friend when she was in high school, and I do think that it had an impact. But that's one area that she doesn't really like to talk about.
O'BRIEN: Laura soon left Midland for Dallas, earning a bachelor's degree in education. She became a public school teacher and a librarian.
In 1977, Laura Welch was 30 years old, smart and single, but that was about to change.
Laura Welch and George Walker Bush had actually lived just miles apart as children. They even attended the same junior high school for a year. Twenty years later, a friend's barbecue in Midland brought them back together.
L. BUSH: He was funny, and we laughed a lot. Both of us loved to laugh.
GEORGE W. BUSH: I was smitten, I was. And it didn't take me long to propose, and fortunately she said yes.
O'BRIEN: Within six weeks, they were engaged. Within three months, married.
L. BUSH: It was a small wedding, just about 75 people. It was in the church I had been baptized in as a baby, so it was a -- you know, a really wonderful way to start a new marriage.
O'BRIEN: Laura Welch was raised a Democrat, but now she was forever tied to a Republican Party dynasty. Just one day after they said their "I do's," George W. followed in his family's footsteps and entered politics, running for a congressional seat in Texas.
GEORGE W. BUSH: I'm George Bush.
O'BRIEN: Bush lost, and after that defeat, George and Laura both agreed to return to private life and start a family. But for Laura, pregnancy did not come quickly.
GEORGE W. BUSH: We did want children, and were in the process of adopting. Laura actually, as I understand it, checked "twins" on the -- we would love to have twins. And in between going to the Gladney Home and being accepted as parents and this -- the final home visit by the caseworker, Laura became pregnant with twins.
L. BUSH: We were thrilled. We had waited a long time to have children, and so when we got to have two at once, we were especially thrilled.
O'BRIEN: The Bushes named their twin girls Barbara and Jenna, after their grandmothers. Laura Bush became a fiercely protective mother, and she was just as watchful over her husband. She was concerned about his drinking. Alcohol had become a problem for George Bush.
When our story of Laura Bush continues, how George Walker Bush would change her life, and how she would change his.
GEORGE W. BUSH: I think it's well documented that I drank too much.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Fredricka Whitfield. PEOPLE IN THE NEWS returns in a moment, but first, here are the top stories. The FBI is investigating a security breach affecting more than 40 million credit card accounts. A hacker apparently gained access to the database of a company that processes transactions for Visa and MasterCard. Consumers won't be liable for any unauthorized charges.
The murder trial of a one-time Ku Klux Klan leader is in recess until Monday. Prosecutors wrapped up their case today against Edgar Ray Killen. He's accused in the 1964 death of three civil rights workers.
American and Iraqi forces are on the offensive in Operation Spear. Air strikes and shelling are targeting a hotbed of insurgents near the Syrian border. Fifty rebels have reportedly been killed. Marines freed four men who were apparently tortured as captives of the insurgents.
At the top of the hour, on "CNN LIVE SATURDAY," how much can diet and exercise do for your health? The authors of "The Gold Coast Cure" say it can reverse the symptoms of serious diseases. That's at 6:00 o'clock Eastern. More headlines in 30 minutes. Now, back to more of PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.
ANNOUNCER: We now return to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.
O'BRIEN: In the early years of their marriage, Laura Bush was concerned about her husband's drinking.
BILL MINUTAGLIO, AUSTIN BUREAU CHIEF, PEOPLE MAGAZINE: It's very, very clear from talking to their friends that it put an enormous strain on their relationship, and that she essentially laid down the law, and in essence said, you know, it's drinking or me.
GEORGE W. BUSH: I think it's been well documented that I drank too much and quit drinking, and -- because alcohol was beginning to crowd out my energy level and crowd out my affections.
GERHART: While he says she made him quit drinking, that she said it's me or the Jim Beam, Laura herself says, "Oh, I never said that. He made up that funny story."
O'BRIEN: With his drinking days behind him, George W. Bush helped his father's successful run for the presidency in 1988.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: ... so help me God.
O'BRIEN: Following in his family's footsteps, George W. Bush decided to give politics another try, running for governor of Texas in 1994.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Let's make it official. I'm a candidate for governor of Texas.
O'BRIEN: He won, defeating incumbent Ann Richards.
GEORGE W. BUSH: A woman who will be a great first lady of Texas, Laura Bush.
L. BUSH: I would have never guessed. People would say, "Do you think George will get back into politics?" And I used to joke and say, "Yes, maybe when we're 50." And as it turned out, we were pretty close to 50 when he ran for governor.
O'BRIEN: With her husband now the governor of Texas, the most private Laura Bush was now thrust into the public spotlight, whether she liked it or not.
After six years in office, George W. Bush saw an opportunity to continue in his family's powerful political dynasty.
GEORGE W. BUSH: This exploratory business is over. I'm running, I'm in, and I intend to win.
O'BRIEN: He set out to capture the office lost by his father seven years earlier. Once again, Laura Bush headed out on the campaign trail, a tough campaign with a rollercoaster finale.
WILLIAM DALEY, GORE CAMPAIGN: The TV networks called this race for Governor Bush. It now appears -- it now appears that their call was premature.
O'BRIEN: In the end, the hand turned out to be a winning one for George Walker Bush.
GEORGE W. BUSH: So help me God.
PODESTA: She is the steel in his back. She is a civilizing influence on him. I think that she has built him in many ways into the person he is today.
O'BRIEN: Laura Bush gracefully embraced her new role, standing with her husband and pushing for causes near to her heart.
L. BUSH: I'm going around the country talking about how important teaching is and how important it is for women and men to consider teaching as a career.
O'BRIEN: After just eight months in the White House, Laura Bush would use her trademark grace to reach out to the country, calming the nerves of a worried nation.
GERHART: After September 11th, Laura Bush really transformed herself into a figure who could take a really active role, and that was to reach out and be reassuring to people, and she surprised herself in a way. Before that, she hadn't really recognized that she herself had this incredible platform and that people would pay attention to her just because she was the first lady.
O'BRIEN: But not all attention was welcome. At the age of 19, both daughters were cited for alcohol violations. The news generated unwanted publicity for a matter the Bushes preferred to handle privately. Always protective of her daughters, Laura Bush took aim at the media. L. BUSH: I think that our children ought to be totally left alone and allowed to have a totally private life. They're not public citizens. I think it's selling magazines and newspapers articles and television at the expense of my children. That's what I think it is.
J. D. HEYMAN, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, "PEOPLE" MAGAZINE: Laura is very close to Jenna and Barbara, and she's fiercely protective of them. When the daughters have had bad press, she's been the first person to circle the wagons.
O'BRIEN: As her husband embarks on his second term as president, the one-time reluctant politician's wife has learned to embrace her role.
GERHART: She's gotten a lot more confident standing in front of a crowd. She's still surprised, though, when she walks into a room and there's a huge round of applause. She still sometimes looks over her shoulder to see who's coming in behind her who these people might be clapping for.
O'BRIEN: While she's become more comfortable in the spotlight, Laura Bush still relishes her role behind the scenes, as a devoted wife who finds comfort in her close-knit family.
GERHART: I think that when historians look back on the Bush presidency, they'll find that she was a bedrock and that he could have never managed without her. He really needs his wife, and she's been there to perform that function for him.
L. BUSH: Every single day we have the opportunity to meet really great people and see fabulous things that happen all over our country.
O'BRIEN: The role of a lifetime, but leaving little time for simple pleasures, like curling up with a good book.
ZAHN: Ever the librarian, Laura Bush continues to stress the importance of literacy and reading at appearances around the country. The first lady is also focused on at-risk children and anti-violence programs as part of her "helping America's youth" initiative.
ANNOUNCER: Coming up, Morgan Freeman's home away from Hollywood. Good music, good friends and good times.
FREEMAN: What in the world would make you come back here? It took me about 20 years to figure that out.
ANNOUNCER: That's still ahead on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ZAHN: Welcome back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. Morgan Freeman is one of Hollywood's most distinguished and respected actors. He's an Oscar winner, who's starred in such high-profile films as "Driving Miss Daisy," "The Shawshank Redemption" and "Million Dollar Baby." His latest is the big-budget summer movie "Batman Begins."
For all of his success, however, Freeman has never forgotten his roots and how they continue to define him to this day. Here's Bruce Burkhardt.
FREEMAN: Hot car! Hot!
BRUCE BURKHARDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Morgan Freeman likes it hot, and that's a good thing because it's hot here in Mississippi.
FREEMAN: This is downtown Clarksdale, the center of what's happening now.
BURKHARDT: A man of his accomplishments and wealth could live anywhere.
CLINT EASTWOOD, ACTOR: Where are your shoes?
BURKHARDT: With four Oscar nominations and a win, this year's best supporting actor for "Million Dollar Baby," the respected actor chooses to live in the hot and humid Mississippi Delta.
FREEMAN: People ask me when I moved back home, they said, "Oh my God, Mississippi, well, Jesus, you could live anyplace in the world you want. Why are you moving to Mississippi?" And I said, "Precisely because I can live anyplace in the world I want."
BURKHARDT: Freeman's ancestors were slaves who worked the fields of the delta. He spent 18 of his growing-up years in Mississippi. He graduated from the separate-but-equal black high school in Greenwood. He went to the movies and sat in the balcony. The ground floor was for whites only.
(on camera): That didn't bother you?
FREEMAN: No, I went -- it can't bother you if that's the way life is. If you were raised up in Africa and you ate worms, it wouldn't bother you, would it? Would it? It's the same thing. If you're growing up in a segregated society, that's the way life is. It's -- I wasn't thinking about rising up and going to the Paramount and demanding to be led into the ground floor. I just wanted to go to the movies.
BILL LUCKETT, MORGAN FREEMAN'S FRIEND: This railroad track is what divided white and black Clarksdale when I was growing up.
BURKHARDT: Clarksdale lawyer, Bill Luckett, also grew up in the delta. LUCKETT: Cam Grocery (ph), where I buy beer when I was 16. Here's the Blues Crossroads, this little place that's got the sign now that says Blues Shangri-La, and we had some fun in there. Morgan and I had really had some great times listening to Super Chicken and some other bands.
BURKHARDT: Freeman and Luckett lived in paralleled universes, one white, one black. Now, the two are best friends.
FREEMAN: I have a dinner party to go to that night.
He's not white.
BURKHARDT (on camera): He's not?
BURKHARDT: What is he?
FREEMAN: Bill Luckett. I don't look over there and see a white guy. Does he look over here and see a black guy?
LUCKETT: I don't see a black guy in him. We're just friends. We have a lot of similar interests. We like good food and good conversation, and lively crowds, and having a good time together.
BURKHARDT (voice-over): The two turned their love of a good time into business ventures, a blues club called Ground Zero because Clarksdale, they say, is ground zero for the blues. And an upscale restaurant, Madidi, just down the street from the club.
They've created jobs in an area that needs them, but Freeman downplays that. He says his motivation was selfish. He got tired of driving so far for good food and good music.
FREEMAN: The blues club is a necessity, because we see so many people coming through here looking for the storied delta blues.
BURKHARDT: Freeman never thought he would end up here in Mississippi, but the delta kept calling him back.
FREEMAN: My aim in life when I graduated from high school was to get out of Mississippi. I started coming back in about 1979, because my parents moved back, which I couldn't understand. What in the world would make you come back here? It took me about 20 years to figure that out.
BURKHARDT: Freeman's first exposure to an integrated society was in 1955, when he joined the Air Force after high school. Many Southern blacks discovered democracy in the military; Freeman found racism. He describes a conversation with a bunkmate from California who had a few misconceptions about black people.
FREEMAN: He told me all the things he had heard about, you know, just awful stuff to think about people. And in his last line -- and that was, "You're cleaner than I am." I thought, well, OK. Fine. That's one that sticks with me, that, you know, he was raised up to think that I was some kind of animal.
BURKHARDT: When we come back, a big disappointment after Freeman decides to move back home.
FREEMAN: Maybe now I'll go join the Ku Klux Klan.
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BURKHARDT: Morgan Freeman believes Mississippi and the South are less racist than the rest of the country.
FREEMAN: I grew up in a segregated society, and that was purposely, obviously, openly segregated. I wasn't given any B.S. about anything else. And then, I went up to the north, and you see it, and it's insidious. And it's painful in its insidiousness, because you want to think something else is going on, and it's not. You want to think you're free there. You're not.
LUCKETT: We are much more integrated here than a number of cities. Right here, you'll drive on a street like this -- there will be a white family, black family, white family, black family, right down these streets. This neighborhood, which for its entire life, until the last few years, was all white, is now a mixed-race neighborhood.
BURKHARDT: But Luckett says the country club still has no black members, only black employees. And Freeman was thrown for a loop in 2001. He got politically active on the issue of the Mississippi state flag. He wanted to get rid of the Confederate battle flag in the corner.
FREEMAN: The flag, the Stars and Bars has personal resonance for me, because, to me, it doesn't represent so much the South as a very negative mind-set that is not necessarily Southern, because you see that flag wherever you see skinheads, radical right wingers, neo- Nazis, any hate group.
BURKHARDT: Politicians put it to a statewide referendum. By an overwhelming 2-1 margin, Mississippians voted to keep the old flag. Black voters did not turn out. The flag didn't mean as much to them as it does to Morgan Freeman.
FREEMAN: It's pitiful. They still feel that they do not have a say. That's why they don't do it. That's the apathy part of it. It just doesn't matter what I -- you know, it's not going to change anything. That's too bad. Maybe now I'll go and join the Ku Klux Klan.
BURKHARDT: Freeman is putting his money where his mouth is to change Mississippi. His nonprofit foundation has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to schools and universities. Mississippi legislature officially acknowledged Freeman's dedication to education.
FREEMAN: One of the smartest moves I've made in life is to come back home.
BURKHARDT: On a full moon night, Freeman and Luckett did what generations of Deltans have done, listen to somebody sing about feeling bad in hopes of feeling good.
It's time to party at their blues club, Ground Zero. The crowd was mostly white. The owners hope that will change.
The next morning, Morgan Freeman made headlines in the "Clarksdale Press Register." By the afternoon, he was pumping his own gas.
The delta is not colorblind yet, but for a man who grew up in a shotgun house in the segregated South, it, and he, have come a long way.
FREEMAN: This is home. This is the way I grew up. This is what I know. It's Mississippi.
ZAHN: In addition to starring in "Batman Begins," Morgan Freeman has just wrapped up filming his next project, called "Edison," a cop drama with Kevin Spacey.
That's it for this edition of PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. Coming up next week, America's pastor, Billy Graham. I'm Paula Zahn. Thanks so much for joining us this week. Hope you'll be back with us next week.
ANNOUNCER: For more celebrity news, pick up a copy of "People" magazine this week.
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