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Aretha’s Civil Rights Legacy

Aretha Franklin. (Matthew Jordan Smith)
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DETROIT (CelebrityAccess) Aretha Franklin may have been an inspiration to a generation of singers, but she will also be remembered for her inseparable connection to the civil rights movement.

“She not only provided the soundtrack for the civil rights movement, Aretha’s music transcended race, nationality and religion and helped people from all backgrounds to recognize what they had in common,” longtime civil rights leader the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery told the Associated Press.

Franklin was a close confidant of Martin Luther King Jr. and helped finance the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which King co-founded. Franklin’s father, Rev. C.L. Franklin, also knew King and Franklin’s church, New Bethel Baptist Church, was the first place where King gave his “I Have A Dream Speech,” with Aretha and Mahalia Jackson in attendance, according to the AP.

Jackson later urged King to repeat the speech at the March on Washington, saying “tell them about the dream, Martin.” Aretha toured with Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier to raise money for King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1967 when the organization was in dire straits, according to the Atlantic.

After King’s death, Franklin worked to keep the movement going and supported the Black Panthers. She attempted to post bial to free activist Angela Davis from jail.

“She loved black people,” Vann R. Newkirk wrote. “In this country, that simple fact was radical enough.”

“Her songs were songs of the movement,” Andrew Young, former King lieutenant and U.N. ambassador, said Thursday. “R-E-S-P-E-C-T. … That’s basically what we wanted. The movement was about respect.

“Almost every time we needed money, there were two people we could always count on: Aretha Franklin and Harry Belafonte,” Young said. “They would get together and have a concert, and that would put us back on our feet.”

Franklin recorded “Respect” on Valentine’s Day 1967 after segregation was outlawed and a year before the Fair Housing Act. It was a month before urban centers including Detroit were burned in riots regarding police brutality, unequal living conditions and job opportunities, the AP noted.

Young said King would often ask Franklin to shing his favorite songs, “Amazing Grace” or “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.” Franklin sang “Precious Lord” at King’s funeral in Atlanta.

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