“Queen of Soul” cited in 270 pages of documents declassified by the FBI as they pursued Black revolutionary and communist influences in political and cultural life during the 1960’s and 1970’s
By Abayomi Azikiwe
On August 16, 2018, Aretha Franklin, popularly known as the “Queen of Soul”, passed away at her home in Detroit, Michigan at the age of 76.
Born in Memphis, Tennessee on March 25, 1942, Aretha came to Detroit in 1946 with her parents, vocalist Mrs. Barbara Siggers Franklin and Rev. Clarence L. Franklin, a well-known minister who originated in the Delta region of Mississippi. Franklin became a minister while he was a teenager in Mississippi.
Rev. Franklin was recruited to come to Detroit from Buffalo, New York in late 1945 and in subsequent years built the New Bethel Baptist Church into an internationally recognized religious institution located on Hasting Street on the eastside of Detroit. The community surrounding the church was later targeted in the late 1950s and early 1960s for demolition in a so-called “urban renewal” project fostered by the then City of Detroit government and the Federal Highway Administration based in Washington, D.C.
By the early 1960s, Detroit was seething with discontent over the massive displacement of more than 100,000 people from the lower east side communities known as Paradise Valley and Black Bottom. Many small businesses, social clubs, churches and as well as thousands of homes were destroyed by the racist white city administration.
New Bethel relocated to Linwood Avenue in the Virginia Park District on the west side in the Spring of 1963. This was the same year of the massive “Walk to Freedom” down Woodward Avenue on June 23. The demonstration was the largest civil rights manifestation in the United States and would set the stage for the “March on Washington” just two months later. The Detroit Walk to Freedom was led by Rev. C. L. Franklin, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Rev. Albert Cleage of the Central Congregational Church, also located in the Virginia Park District on Linwood Avenue, among other community and labor leaders.
Rev. Franklin was heavily involved with the SCLC as a board member and fundraiser. Dr. King and his organization, in which he served as president, were subjected to intense spying and disruption efforts by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) along with segregationist southern state governments bolstered by law-enforcement agencies and business interests.
Aretha Franklin often traveled with her father during the 1950s in his highly popular gospel tours throughout the South and other regions of the U.S. By 1960, Aretha had signed a recording contract with Columbia Records in New York City. Later in 1967, she switched to Atlantic Records where her first album catapulted the soul artist to the top of the charts.
FBI Sought to Document “Communist Infiltration of the SCLC” ….