Music icon Aretha Franklin was known for her soulful music, but the Federal Bureau of Investigation thought the singer was suspicious.
The FBI has finally released its file on the “Queen of Soul,” who not only was an artist but also an activist. The daughter of Rev. C. L. Franklin, a highly respected preacher in Detroit who was also a civil rights activist, Franklin grew up surrounded by civil rights figures such as Dr. Martin Luther King; she even sang at King’s funeral. These connections made her a person of interest to the FBI under its notorious leader J. Edgar Hoover.
With the opening of the files, we now know that the agency followed Franklin and nearly every move she made for many years. The recently declassified records also reveal they thought she had ties to radical Black activists.
The files finally came to light after journalist Jenn Dize, founder of Courage News, requested them under the Freedom of Information Act. She then shared details from the FBI’s files on social media.
“Today, I received the files. While incomplete, they show repeated and disgusting suspicion of the famed Black singer, her work, and activists around her,” Dize tweeted on Sept. 7
While the FBI files were incomplete, Dize said, they still showed “repeated and disgusting suspicion of the famed Black singer, her work, and activists around her.”
Dize posted screenshots of several documents, including one that she said, showed Franklin’s “every move is carefully documented” by the FBI.
She added in another post: “In this document, just now declassified, direct contact information and details of her Atlantic Records contract are discussed – presumably ‘just in case.’” Dated August 26, 1971, the page has “confidential” and “secret” markings that have been blacked out.
A memorandum dated Jan. 17, 1972, said the bureau had used a “suitable pretext” in order to determine who had received a phone call from a member of the Black Panther Party. The call was determined to have been made to Franklin, described in the document as a “noted Negro singer and entertainer.”
Dize tweeted that there were “frequent attempts” to connect Franklin and others to anything the FBI “deemed nefarious,” Newsweek reported.
It is true Franklin aided the movement. Besides support, she also helped out financially. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference was often in need of money to fund its civil rights activities.
“Almost every time we needed money, there were two people we could always count on: Aretha Franklin and Harry Belafonte,” said Andrew Young, the former King lieutenant, U.N. ambassador, and former Mayor of Atlanta, in a 2018 Voice of America interview. “They would get together and have a concert, and that would put us back on our feet.”
Photo: Aretha Franklin at a news conference, March 26, 1973. (AP) / FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, 1936. (AP)