The Daily Telegraph
‘Queen of Soul’ tracked by the FBI over civil rights activism
Files show Aretha Franklin was investigated for her friendship with Martin Luther King and others
ARETHA FRANKLIN was tracked and monitored by the FBI for years, with the agency labelling some of her shows “communist infiltration events,” newly unsealed documents show.
A 270-page document released by the FBI details an extensive surveillance operation with reports from more than a dozen states, as her civil rights activism and friendships with Martin Luther King Jr and Angela Davis came under scrutiny.
Franklin, who was widely known as “the Queen of Soul”, died in 2018 aged 76, but her association with Davis in particular sparked the attention of the authorities. Davis was a member of the Communist Party and accused of supplying guns to a group of men who launched an armed takeover of a courtroom in California, in which four people were killed.
President Richard Nixon labelled her a “dangerous terrorist” when she was arrested after two years on the run, but Davis was later acquitted.
Franklin was close to Davis and performed at a 1972 concert in order to raise money for Davis’s defence fund, even offering to post her bail.
Agents also watched Franklin’s performances for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), of which King was president.
Franklin’s father, CL Franklin, was a Baptist minister and close associate of Martin Luther King Jr, but shows in Memphis in 1967 and Atlanta in 1968 were marked as “communist infiltration events.”
A subsequent note in the file entitled “Assassination of Martin Luther King: racial matters” expressed concerns that Franklin might be involved in a “huge memorial concert” for King and that the show “would provide emotional spark which could ignite racial disturbance in this area”. In the end, no such concert was held.
The files were released following a Freedom of Information request by journalist Jenn Dize, who posted excerpts in a lengthy Twitter thread, and blasted the FBI’S “repeated and disgusting suspicion of the famed black singer, her work, and activists around her”. One document from 1976 linked Franklin to the coordinating council for the liberation of Dominica (CCLD), which a source described as “a black extremist group bent on disturbing the tranquillity of the Island of Dominica” that “may have established a base of operation in the New York City area”.
Although the source identified Franklin as a friend of Roosevelt Bernard Douglas, a “black extremist of international note” who went on to become the prime minister of Dominica, there was little else to prove an association with the CCLD.
Franklin, whose greatest hits include Respect and (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman, was so heavily monitored that the FBI kept notes of events she was thought to be attending, including a Black Panther party in Los Angeles in 1971, but did not show up.
The FBI has been known to keep files on a number of famous performers especially as tensions rose over the Vietnam war. The last surviving member of 1960s band The Monkees, Micky Dolenz, said he is suing the FBI in an effort to get the agency to hand over its records on the group.
The musicians sparked government interest for supposedly featuring “antius messages on the war in Vietnam” and broadcasting Left-wing “subliminal messages”.