Aretha Franklin, Soulful Symbol of Civil Rights and Feminism, Has Died

Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” is widely regarded as an anthem of the civil rights movement, in which the iconic soul singer, who has died aged 76, was herself an important figure.

Her friend Jesse Jackson recently revealed to Franklin’s home-town newspaper that the performer had quietly helped fund the movement for many years.

“When Dr King was alive, several times she helped us make payroll,” he told the Detroit Free Press. “On one occasion, we took an 11-city tour with her as Aretha Franklin and Harry Belafonte… And they put gas in the vans. She did 11 concerts for free and hosted us at her home and did a fundraiser for my campaign. Aretha has always been a very socially conscious artist, an inspiration, not just an entertainer.”

Franklin’s father, CL Franklin, was a Baptist minister and close associate of Martin Luther King Jr. He organised the 1963 Detroit Walk to Freedom, a civil rights demonstration that drew some 125,000 people and presaged the March on Washington later that year.

His daughter reportedly had it written into her contract during the 1960s that she would not perform to segregated audiences.

And Franklin’s activism could also be as assertive as the lyrics to her most famous hit.

In 1970 she offered to post bail for Angela Davis, a philosophy teacher, communist and social activist accused of supplying guns used in a botched, bloody courtroom escape attempt in California.

Davis went on the run but was eventually arrested in New York City following an FBI manhunt. Then-president Richard Nixon called her a “dangerous terrorist”, but she was acquitted in 1972 and went on to continue her academic career and activism.

Franklin was quoted in Jet magazine as saying she was ready to post the cost of Davis’ bail “whether it’s $100,000 or $250,000”, amid a widespread campaign for her release.

“Black people will be free. I’ve been locked up (for disturbing the peace in Detroit) and I know you got to disturb the peace when you can’t get no peace,” she said.

“Jail is hell to be in. I’m going to see her free if there is any justice in our courts, not because I believe in communism but because she’s a black woman and she wants freedom for black people.

“I have the money. I got it from black people – they’ve made me financially able to have it – and I want to use it in ways that will help our people.”

In the event, however, Davis’ bail was paid by a cooperative farm director called Roger McAfee, according to a contemporary report in the New York Times.

Source: UK Independent