The FBI tracked the late singer Aretha Franklin’s civil rights activism in the 1960s and 1970s, according to documents recently declassified by a reporter using the Freedom of Information Act.
Archives reporter Jen Dize received and published in the Substack Courage News newsletter on Thursday, shows that the FBI has shown “repeated and repugnant suspicions” about Franklin, as described by Dize. Write it up Twitter Thursday, which first requested the documents in 2018, when the “Respect” singer died at the age of 76.
The documents indicate Franklin’s appearance in 1967 at a convention hosted by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference under Dr. Martin Luther King, as well as the public discussion of Franklin’s father, Clarence “K.L.” Franklin on China as a rising power in the 1960s. The documents reportedly claim that “SCLC leadership has adopted an ‘anti-American’ and ‘pro-communist’ line.”
The FBI actively pursued Franklin in the late 1960s and 1970s, and even used a “suitable pretext telephone call” at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles in November 1972 to establish that the Black Panther Party had contacted Franklin by phone, the documents show. .
Another document from 1968, described as a “summary of the racial situation in Atlanta, GA,” shows an FBI source who thought that performances by Franklin, Sammy Davis Jr., Marlon Brando and The Supremes at a Martin memorial Luther King “would provide an emotional spark that could spark racial unrest [in] this area,” as the documents note that some of this group “support the idea of militant black power.”
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In 1979, the FBI recorded a death threat Franklin and her family received over the phone from a man who claimed to have married the singer in 1958. The death threat came four months after Franklin’s father was shot twice during an attempted robbery at his home in Detroit, according to the document and the Detroit Historical Society.
Franklin received a similar threat in the mail in 1974, according to the documents.
The majority of the 270-page FBI file now released includes Franklin’s lawyers addressing the FBI in 2005 about the “sale of bootleg Aretha Franklin DVDs and CDs” by a moderator of a Yahoo! message group dedicated to the singer.
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Franklin and her lawyers pursued a copyright infringement case against the moderator, and documents show the moderator in 2006 “probably sold $3,500 to $4,000 worth of CDs and DVDs over the last two years.”
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The records show the FBI documented guidelines for joining the fan group, which contained 115 members and had just 25 “members who are active posters.”
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“Due to the relatively low financial loss suffered by Ms. Franklin, [REDACTED] was proposed and accepted into the pretrial diversion program,” according to a May 23, 2007, document.
“At this time, all the evidence of the investigation has been exhausted and the case has reached its logical conclusion. Therefore, this case is requested to be closed,” the document added.
Franklin died in August 2018 at the age of 76 from pancreatic cancer.
She was a longtime civil rights activist and wrote in her memoir that “Respect,” one of her biggest hits, was an anthem for the movement.
“The [reflected] the need of a nation, the need of the average man and woman in the street, the businessman, the mother, the fireman, the teacher—all wanted respect,” Franklin wrote. “It was also one of the battle cries of the civil rights movement. The song acquired monumental importance.”