In Eulogy at Detroit Church, Jesse Jackson Recalls Aretha Franklin’s Early Struggles, Civil Rights Service

(Photo: Ryan Garza, Detroit Free Press)

Standing on the stage where he helped eulogize her father nearly 35 years ago, the Rev. Jesse Jackson on Sunday lionized Aretha Franklin not for her music, but for her service to the civil rights cause.

In a voice so soft that people in the packed auditorium at New Bethel Baptist Church were shouting for his microphone to be turned up, Jackson painted a picture of the world Franklin was born into – one where being black meant a life of struggle.

“Aretha was born in a shack in Memphis,” Jackson told the crowd, adding that 225 blacks were lynched in Tennessee in 1942. “She was born in the midst of oppression. No one was saying Black Lives Matter then.”

The Queen of Soul died Thursday of pancreatic cancer. She was 76.

When Franklin was starting out as a singer, she often stayed in private homes while touring, because there weren’t hotels that let blacks stay, Jackson said.

But Franklin was committed to overturning that, Jackson said. He noted that her father, C.L. Franklin, the superstar pastor of New Bethel, was a leader in the civil rights movement, something Aretha did as well, even working behind the scenes.

Jackson recalled once when Martin Luther King Jr. was facing bankruptcy.

“She went on a 11-city tour with Harry Belafonte and gave all the money to Dr. King,” Jackson told the church.

“She has a crown of jewels (now in heaven). Jewels for singing. Jewels for serving.”

The crowd filled New Bethel to honor Franklin at her home church just days after her death. The cornerstone on the outside of the church building notes that when the congregation moved to the site in 1963, the Rev. C.L. Franklin was the pastor. Aretha is listed as a patron on the large stone.

A makeshift memorial covered the walls and sidewalks on either side of the main entrance. Balloons stirred in the breeze as parishioners walked by flowers, some still in their plastic bouquet wrappings. All morning, people driving – or in one case, riding a bike – stopped to take pictures or add their own tribute.

Inside, New Bethel pastor Robert Smith Jr. opened the service.

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SOURCE: David Jesse
Detroit Free Press