For 40 years, according to documents obtained exclusively by Rolling Stone magazine, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) surveilled the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin.
Using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the outlet unearthed 270 pages revealing that the FBI tracked the late singer from 1967 until 2007. Many of the names in the file are redacted, but phrases such as “Black extremists,” “pro-communist,” “hate America,” “radical,” “racial violence,” and “militant Black power” are ubiquitous throughout it.
Aretha Franklin’s son, Kecalf Franklin, told Rolling Stone, “I’m not really sure if my mother was aware that she was being targeted by the FBI and followed. I do know that she had absolutely nothing to hide though.”
RELATED STORY: Herschel Walker’s son blasts his dad over abortion denials, lies, and domestic violence
Franklin’s father, Clarence L. Franklin, was a minister and a civil rights activist, and the late singer worked with the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Angela Davis, so FBI agents were clearly interested in following her.
The FBI’s file contains more than just its own observations. One document found among the papers was a threatening letter to Franklin, per Rolling Stone, which reads:
“Dear Aretha…I’m still in charge of you…I’m not to be crossed…you should be…paying me some of my money…evidently your advisors do not know the dangers of neglecting what I’m saying…I would hate to drag [your father] into this.”
Franklin’s father was shot in 1979 at the age of 69, but information about the assailants was redacted from the documents. He died about two weeks after the shooting.
Rolling Stone reports that one document highlights the plans for who would perform at Dr. King’s funeral, referring it to a “racial situation,” adding that “Sammy Davis Jr., Aretha Franklin…of this group, some have supported militant Black power concept…[performance at MLK memorial by these prominent entertainers] would provide emotional spark which could ignite racial disturbance in this area.”
During the era of the civil rights movement, it was common knowledge that Black leaders and entertainers affiliated with them were targeted by the likes of J. Edgar Hoover, the head of the FBI from 1924 to 1972. As Rolling Stone cites, Marvin Gaye, Jimi Hendrix, Mariam Makeba, and her husband, Stokely Carmichael, were all tracked by the FBI at the time.
Ultimately, even after four decades, the FBI never linked Franklin to any “radical” movements.
Kecalf Franklin told Rolling Stone, “It does make me feel a certain way knowing the FBI had her targeted and wanted to know her every move. But at the same time knowing my mother and the way she ran her business I know she had nothing to hide so they wouldn’t have found anything and were wasting their time. As you see…they found nothing at all.”
So much is on the line this election, and we need to make sure every eligible voter is able to cast their ballots. Sign up to volunteer for Election Protection to fight voter suppression and rampant disinformation. From field work to remote work you can do at home, there is something for every volunteer with Election Protection.