Photo: Ryan Arrowsmith

Aretha Franklin Tracked By The FBI In The 1960s + 1970s

While Aretha Franklin is revered as the Queen of Soul, the iconic singer who died at age 76 in 2018 was a significant part of the Civil Rights Movement. And while using her musical influence to advocate for racial equality in America, recently unsealed documents reveal that the FBI followed her in the late ’60s and early ’70s, for her connection to the movement.

270 Federal Bureau of Investigation pages confirm information regarding death threats to Franklin and copyright infringement cases, highlight many of Aretha’s performances at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, of which Dr. Martin Luther King was president.

Labeled as “communist infiltration” events and “a summary of the racial situation in Atlanta, GA” by the FBI, the shows for the SCLC took place in Atlanta and Memphis between 1967 and 1968. The bureau was concerned that Franklin’s performances at the events “would provide emotional spark which could ignite racial disturbance [in] this area,” due to members of the group that “have supported the militant black power concept.”

Additional instances for the legendary chanteuse was investigated included a scheduled Black Panther Party performance, that the singer ultimately skipped due to timing. “Bobby Seale, Chairman of the Black Panther Party, has directed the Los Angeles Black Panther Party to initiate plans for a major rally culminating in free food distribution to the poor black people in Los Angeles,” it reads. “Source also advised that Gwen Goodloe wanted to contact Negro singing stars Aretha Franklin and Roberta Flack to possibly assist in the event.”

Elsewhere in the FBI documents, the government agency saw a connection between Aretha Franklin and the Black Liberation Army after reportedly finding her address in BLA’s organization documents. According to the bureau, the BLA was a “quasi-military group composed of small guerrilla units employing the tactics of urban guerrilla warfare against the established order with a view toward achieving revolutionary change in America.” But due to insufficient evidence, the FBI concluded that Franklin’s association with the BLA could not be determined.

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Author: Al Denté

Photo: Ryan Arrowsmith