By Bankole Thompson
One of the few people in a position to better assess the remarkable contributions of Aretha Franklin to humanity is the Rev Jesse Jackson. Both Jackson and Franklin grew up together in the civil rights movement. They are both 76.
That explains why Jackson was in town earlier this week before the Queen of Soul passed away on August 16 to pray with her. But while Jackson has many memories of Franklin and her support of the civil rights crusades led by Rev Martin Luther King Jr., he sought to place her in the pantheon of social justice warriors in history.
I sat down with Jackson on Thursday for an exclusive interview inside New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit to discuss the multidimensional legacy of Franklin, at the very spiritual edifice that she grew up in and where her father the late Rev C.L. Franklin, was the senior pastor.
“Many artists are consumed in their own grandeur and glory and it becomes difficult to reach them,” Jackson said. “But Aretha while she enjoyed singing for the Pope, she also would sing at a small church for free. She never gave up her platform.”
Unlike many artists who trumpet their support of social causes, Franklin did not do so.
“Most of her social justice work is not as pronounced as her singing,” Jackson said. “She did not market that. Most of her philanthropic work is not known but it is still evident. She did not cheapen her commitment to social justice. She did not cheapen her commitment to fight for poor people. I think you should let your light shine.”
According to Jackson “Aretha Franklin was on the right side of politics,” and that is why everyday people are crying about her death.
“Her music lifted us up. She used her music to fight for social causes. She never sang music that belittled our people,” the civil rights leader said.
Bankole Thompson is the chair of the Academy of Fellows and Editor-in-Chief of The PuLSE Institute, an independent non-partisan anti-poverty think tank based in Detroit.