Academy-award winner Morgan Freeman says Mississippi is "starving" for the right leadership, so the actor is using his celebrity status to help his friend run for governor in 2011.

Freeman has written a fundraising letter and is one of the hosts for a cocktail party in Los Angeles next week for Bill Luckett, an attorney seeking the Democratic nomination. Term limits prevent Republican Gov. Haley Barbour from seeking a third term.

"Reform in Mississippi is hard because the base stock of this state is a mule-headed bunch of farmers," Freeman told The Associated Press on Sunday. "Those farmers have ruled the roost for so long because this is an agricultural state."

Freeman lives in Charleston, a small town in the Mississippi Delta where farming is the main economic engine. The area has been plagued by poverty, illiteracy and racial tensions.

Freeman said in the fundraising letter that Luckett, who co-owns the Ground Zero Blues Club and the upscale Madidi restaurant with the actor, will help the state improve education, healthcare and economic development.

"Holding on to the old politics of race, class and region has starved Mississippi for too long," Freeman wrote in the letter released to AP. "... Bill Luckett will work diligently to see that the rhetoric that has divided us will never again keep us from tackling such problems."

Mississippi Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant and businessman Dave Dennis, a former member of the Federal Reserve Board in New Orleans, have said they'll seek the Republican nomination for governor. No other prominent Democrats have publicly said they'll run.

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Oops! Freeman’s comments weren’t taken well by some of the folks he referred to as “mule-headed.” Indeed, Mississippi Farm Bureau president David Waide says he was “greatly disappointed.” — Greg Henderson, editor

Waide issued the following letter to news organizations:

“I was greatly disappointed in Morgan Freeman’s recent comments referring to the base stock of this state as a ‘mule-headed bunch of farmers.’ I think Mr. Freeman is very shortsighted when he refers to the progress that has been made in Mississippi and to the bulk of the population as being agricultural. 

“I would remind Mr. Freeman that, as the result of the farmers of this state and nation, the food we consume requires less than one-tenth of our take-home pay to purchase. I would also remind Mr. Freeman that, as a result of the American farmer, instead of 50 percent of our population being involved in the labor force to produce the food and fiber we consume, less than 1.5 percent of the population is required in agriculture’s workforce today. And we are still able to export more than 30 percent of the production from this nation’s farms, which is a tremendous help in balancing our foreign trade deficit.

“While America’s agriculturists have benefited greatly from the research sector, our dedication to producing the food and fiber this nation needs is envied the world over. We are not dependent on any nation for our food supply, which is a direct result of the ability, the vast knowledge and the resources of America’s farmers. They utilize those tools in a way that helps every American, and many people around the world, have affordable and nutritious diets.

“It is most noteworthy that the strong economy we in America have enjoyed, and will return to enjoying after this economic downturn, could in many ways be directly attributed to the progress we have made in feeding ourselves and others around the world. The efficiency in production has certainly contributed to an increase in available workforce that the other segments of our economy have been able to enjoy.  People have been afforded the opportunity to seek off-farm employment, creating a labor pool that has contributed to the huge economic growth we have experienced as a nation.

“Furthermore, I would remind Mr. Freeman that because we have contributed so greatly by freeing up a vast labor supply and creating an economy that is most envied, we have also provided disposable income that allows great numbers of Americans to go and view the motion pictures he displays on the Hollywood screens. Yes, as the result of the efficiency of the American farmer, Mr. Freeman has been made a multi-millionaire. I believe his comments were most insulting to everybody that has ever produced agriculture commodities. I anxiously await his apology for the disparaging remarks he made about my heroes, the Mississippi farmers." — David Waide