aretha loved black people
By Erin White
August 16, 2018
Aretha Franklin was born in 1942 in segregated Memphis, Tennessee. Her life and career were informed by the intersections between race, gender, and music. So were the pro-feminist messages of her biggest hits. Dubbed “the million dollar voice”, Franklin’s musicality garnered legions of fans across the country, from Sam Cooke to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Success that Franklin then used to support the Black community.
In addition to using her God-given gifts to spread joy, messages of liberation, and demands for respect, Franklin was an outspoken advocate for black rights and the activists pursuing them, like Angela Davis and of course Martin Luther King Jr.
“I have the money, I got it from Black people – they made me financially able to do it – and I want to use it in ways that will help our people”, Franklin said about her support for Davis.
Going against the wishes of her father, Franklin became a vocal public advocate for Angela Davis. During Davis’ 16-month incarceration, Franklin told Jet magazine that regardless of the Communist Party member’s bond, she intended to pay it. “My daddy says I don’t know what I’m doing. Well, I respect him, of course, but I’m going to stick to my beliefs. Angela Davis must go free. Black people must be free. . . . Jail is hell to be in. I’m going to set 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.”
Her friendship with Martin Luther King Jr. made for memorable moments in Black History, like that night in 1968 when King came on stage with Franklin to celebrate the proclamation of February 16 as ‘Aretha Franklin Day’ by Detroit’s Mayor. Later that year, Franklin sang at King’s funeral.
Aretha Franklin also publicly supported the organization Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity) and attended their ‘soul picnic’ in 1972 along with several activists such as Betty Shabazz, widow of Malcolm X.
She later covered Donny Hathaway’s song ‘Someday We’ll All Be Free’ for the soundtrack of Spike Lee’s movie ‘Malcolm X’.
More recently, Franklin gave a memorable performance at Barack Obama’s 2009 Presidential Inauguration, singing “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” for close to 2 million people. She was hopeful that he would make a difference for Black people: “I was delighted and thrilled to be there,” she later told Larry King. “That was the most important thing, not so much the performance, but just to be there and to see this great man go into office—the promise of tomorrow coming to pass.”
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