Aretha Franklin was known around the world as the Queen of Soul. What many people may not know about her, however, is that she was a longstanding target of the U.S. government’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) from about 1967 to 2007.
Raised mostly in Detroit, as the daughter of a civil rights activist, Franklin became active in the struggle to free black people early in her life. Her father’s church became a center of much black liberation activity.
Like many musicians in the 1960s, her music was influenced by and reflected the Black Liberation Movement; songs like “Respect” became anthems.
Aretha Franklin toured with Martin Luther King Jr. and Harry Belafonte, often fundraising, and donating to civil rights and black liberation organizations.
When Angela Davis was jailed after 17-year-old Jonathan Jackson used her guns to try to free the Soledad Brothers—Black Panther George Jackson, Fleeta Drumgo and John Clutchette who were charged with killing a prison guard in retaliation for the murders of three prisoners—Aretha Franklin posted her bail.
Franklin was quoted as saying, “Angela Davis must go free. Black people will be free. I’ve been locked up (for disturbing the peace), and I know you got to disturb the peace when you can’t get no peace. Jail is hell to be in. I’m going to see her free… I have the money. I got it from black people—they’ve made me financially able to have it—and I want to use it in ways that will help our people.”
She also wrote a letter to Emory Douglas, the Black Panther Party’s Minister of Culture. In it, she was expressing regret that she couldn’t be at a fundraiser for the Black Panther Party due to scheduling issues. She wrote in it, “I love what you are doing in the community, and I am looking forward to meeting all of you.”
She was also known to send support to Indigenous peoples’ struggles against white power.
The FBI had a long file of hundreds of pages on its targeting of Aretha Franklin. Though much of what’s available is heavily redacted, the file included death threats sent to her as well as attempts to extort her. The FBI surveilled her, fabricated phone calls to her, infiltrated her circles and collected information on her at least up to 2007.
This targeting is something the FBI has done against black revolutionaries, activists and even entertainers whenever they see the potential to influence African or black people to free us.
The FBI continues to target our leaders, organizations, and people of possible influence. Most recently, the July 29, 2022, FBI raids of African People’s Socialist Party (APSP) and Uhuru Movement offices and homes in St. Louis, Missouri and St. Petersburg, Florida have been aimed at attacking African people’s ability to free ourselves and build power in our own hands.
They have labeled APSP Chairman Omali Yeshitela, APSP AgitProp Director Akilé Anai, African People’s Solidarity Committee Chairwoman Penny Hess and Uhuru Solidarity Movement Chair Jesse Nevel of being “co-conspirators” and pawns of Russia because, like Aretha Franklin, they are determined to see black people be free.
We must stand up against the U.S. government’s longstanding war on African people using the FBI and its other tools. Our freedom threatens the colonial capitalist system because it’s built off stealing our labor and resources, but like Aretha Franklin said, “black people will be free,” and no amount of targeting our leaders and organizations is going to stop that!
Hands Off Uhuru! Hands Off Africa!