[The following article, from the website of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, is about a time when popular entertainers often contributed to political movements and to the defense of targets of government repression, because of the strength and influence of the movements. The case described, of Aretha Franklin coming forward to bail Angela Davis out of jail, largely out of solidarity and in opposition to injustice, is posted here as a good example of the times, in which support was given to such revolutionaries as George Jackson as well as to such members of the revisionist CPUSA as Angela Davis. — Frontlines ed.]
From 1970′s Aretha to 2012 Beyoncé
by Kamau Franklin, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement
A 1970′s news article on Aretha Franklin’s heroic gesture to pay bail for then recently arrested Angela Davis has been circulating on face-book (link is at end of article). Aretha offered to pay bail stemming from the capture of Angela Davis in New York after a massive FBI woman hunt in 1970. Ms. Davis was charged with murder, kidnapping and conspiracy for allegedly supplying weapons for an attempted courtroom escape led by Jonathan Jackson to free his brother and revolutionary leader George Jackson. Angela Davis already well known for her battles with then California Governor Ronald Reagan over her right to teach in California Universities after being identified as a communist sealed her image as a revolutionary icon in the Black movement. The article has caught the attention of many because of Aretha’s striking and unapologetic stance in offering bail towards Mr. Davis release. Aretha Franklin states
“My Daddy (Detroit’s Rev. C.L. Franklin) says I don’t know what I ‘m doing. Well I respect him of course but I’m going to stick by my beliefs. Angela Davis must go free. Black people will be free. I’ve been locked up (for disturbing the peace in Detroit) 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 if there is any justice in our courts, not because I believe in Communism, but because she is a Black woman and she wants freedom for black people. 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”
For context Aretha is speaking during a time in the early 1970′s when the dominant ideological current in the Black community had shifted from civil rights to Black Power. With all the inconsistencies related to the Black Power slogan it is clear that a critical mass of Black people during that time internalized it as statement of Black pride, activism within the community, standing up and forcefully challenging white supremacy over black lives and the contemplation of different forms of struggle and ideological beliefs within while attempting unity to the public. Broad concepts because it lacked the crystallization of an actual program to gain “freedom” but nonetheless during that time the idea of “Black Power” set the tone for community actions and collective responsibility.
Aretha of 1970 states she has “disturbed the peace and has been arrested”. She is hinting to a political arrest not one for drugs, shoplifting or for domestic violence, but for advocating for her people. Aretha Franklin was as big as it gets in terms of mainstream artist during that time in the Black community. She was not touting her donations to charity but her personal involvement and desire to be a part of the movement to free black people and in particular her solidarity with another Black woman.
What makes these statements even more note worthy is that Aretha was more a product of the times than a devout revolutionary artist. She was moved to her position by what was happening around her. Just as today’s pop figures/ artist are also not devout revolutionaries and are moved these days by anything but a movement. As time evolves you can see how in just one generation a figure like Muhammad Ali takes a stance against US military adventurism that costs him millions in personal wealth and prestige from the dominant power players to his daughter Laila’s promotion of US military adventurism in an upcoming television series that will probably earn her great sums. Times and context will mostly dictate this outcome and activist types should not waste much time in a critique of the vast majority of popular artist for not being “political” but instead movement people should be critiqued for hoping that popular figures/artist in today’s context will themselves be committed to community action. Continue reading