Unsealed Documents Reveal FBI Heavily Tracked Aretha Franklin’s Civil Rights Activism

Her FBI file was recently declassified

Pitchfork and other sources report that the recently declassified FBI file on the late soul legend Aretha Franklin shows that the Bureau extensively tracked Franklin’s civil rights activism, particularly her friendships with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Angela Davis.

The file, which spans 270 pages includes reports from more than a dozen states, as well as reputable death threats against the singer and a massive copyright infringement case spawned from a Yahoo! Groups message board in 2005.

According to the FBI reports, Franklin’s performances at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), of which Dr. King was president, were characterized as “communist infiltration” events.

A subsequent note in the file is titled “Assassination of Martin Luther King. Racial matters.” It alleges that Franklin was said to be involved in a free, “huge memorial concert” at Atlanta Stadium, donated by the Atlanta Braves. The show “would provide the emotional spark which could ignite racial disturbance in this area,” according to an FBI source. In the end, the SCLC scrapped that memorial service and held a three-mile procession to Morehouse College instead.

The tracking of Franklin’s ties to Angela Davis includes notes on her performance at a 1972 fundraiser in Los Angeles for the Angela Davis defense fund.

Also, the FBI identified Franklin as a prospective performer at supposedly threatening events far more often than she actually appeared at them. These included the events like an Angela Davis benefit and a Black Panthers Los Angeles rally.

More than 170 pages of the file pertain to a copyright infringement case, which began in 2005 after Franklin’s lawyers asked the FBI to locate a Yahoo! Groups message board moderator. It took several months and multiple grand jury subpoenas to find the culprit, who is a self-proclaimed “anti-fanatic” who “keeps it real with respect to his perception of the flaws in Aretha Franklin’s performances,” as well as allegedly selling pirated DVDs and CDs of her performances.

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