How The FBI Tracked Soul Singer Aretha Franklin For 40 Years

The FBI kept tabs on the self-styled “Queen of Soul” while looking for Franklin’s links to civil rights activists, communists and “black extremists.”

Aretha Franklin in 1980

David Redfern/RedfernsAretha Franklin performing in London in the 1980s.

Shortly after Aretha Franklin’s death in 2018, rolling stone filed a Freedom of Information Act to obtain all documents relating to her from the FBI. Now Franklin’s dossier has been released – offering a stunning and insightful look at how the organization has tracked the ‘Queen of Soul’ for 40 years.

As rolling stone reports, the FBI kept tabs on Franklin between 1967 and 2007. Using surveillance techniques like fake phone calls and high-level sources, they monitored his involvement in the American civil rights movement and his relationships with prominent figures. like Martin Luther King Jr.

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“From 1967 and 1968 until the early 1970s, the FBI maintained files on almost every major black figure and especially on anyone who appeared to be, or was suspected of being, involved in civil rights or politics. black woman,” Beverly Gage, a Yale history and American studies professor who wrote a book about FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, said The New York Times.

Aretha Franklin with family

Anthony Barboza/Getty ImagesAretha Franklin (center) with her father, Clarence L. Franklin, and sister, Erma Franklin. Clarence Franklin was a pastor and civil rights activist who, like Aretha, was close to Martin Luther King Jr.

They investigated whether Franklin, who rose to fame with hits like “Respect,” “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman” and “Think,” had any affiliations with “extremist” groups. The New York Times reports that the singer’s name has appeared in documents about “possible racial violence”, the “Communist infiltration” of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and an “extremist affair” involving the Black Panthers.

rolling stone further reports that his 270-page dossier is filled with words like “black extremist”, “pro-communist”, “hates America”, “radical”, “racial violence” and “militant black power”. Following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, for example, the FBI thought the deceased civil rights leader’s funeral plans involving Franklin might become a “race situation.”

“Sammy Davis Jr., Aretha Franklin…of this group some supported the concept of militant black power,” the FBI filing states, noting that their performance at a King memorial could “provide [an] emotional spark that could trigger racial unrest in this area.

Ultimately, the FBI never found any evidence linking Franklin to “extremist” or “radical” organizations. And it’s not entirely clear that Franklin knew the FBI was monitoring his contacts and tracking his every move.

Aretha Franklin in 1960

Bettmann/Getty ImagesAretha Franklin in 1960. The FBI tracked her movements from 1967 to 2007.

“I don’t really know if my mom knew she was being targeted by the FBI and being followed,” Franklin’s son Kecalf said. rolling stone. “I know she had absolutely nothing to hide.”

That said, Franklin has interacted with the FBI on occasion. Part of her FBI file relates to threats received by the singer, including extortion attempts and letters threatening to kill her family. The New York Times reports that an FBI agent even visited Franklin at his home in 1974 to discuss a death threat, but Franklin refused to read the letter.

Her filing notes that the singer said “the whole thing scared her and she didn’t want to know about it or what was in the letter.”

As rolling stone notes, Franklin was one of many artists — both black and white — who had FBI files. Marvin Gaye, Jimi Hendrix, Whitney Houston and the Notorious BIG were all closely watched by the FBI.

“That’s what they were doing back then,” Kenneth O’Reilly, a history professor at the University of Alaska in Anchorage and author of Racial Matters: The FBI’s Secret File on Black America, 1960-1972 Told The New York Times. “If you were famous, they had a file on you, especially if you were African American.”

For Aretha Franklin’s family, however, there’s a certain satisfaction in seeing that – despite the FBI’s best efforts – Franklin has never been linked to any wrongdoing.

“It kind of makes me feel knowing that the FBI targeted her and wanted to know her every move,” Kecalf Franklin said. rolling stone. “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 was wasting their time. As you can see…they found nothing at all.

After reading about how the FBI tracked Aretha Franklin, see how the FBI secretly taped Martin Luther King Jr., or check out these powerful photos from the civil rights movement.

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How The FBI Tracked Soul Singer Aretha Franklin For 40 Years

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