Aretha Franklin was tracked by the FBI for 40 years as the agency repeatedly sought — but ultimately failed — to tie the Queen of Soul to “extremists” and “radicals,” newly declassified documents reveal.
The 270-page FBI file — obtained by Rolling Stone magazine — details how the feds spied on the “Respect” songstress through “false phone calls, surveillance, infiltration and highly-placed sources” from 1967 to 2007.
The FBI’s suspicion of the late star was laid bare in the cache of documents, which included a slew of phrases, such as “black extremists,” “pro-communist,” “hate America,” “radical,” “racial violence” and “militant black power.”
“I’m not really sure if my mother was aware that she was being targeted by the FBI and followed. I do know that she had absolutely nothing to hide though,” Franklin’s son, Kecalf Franklin, told the outlet.
The documents, some of which are heavily redacted, were first requested by the outlet via the Freedom of Information Act in August 2018 — just days after Franklin died from a pancreatic tumor, aged 76.
The FBI declined to comment on the file.
Franklin’s association with Martin Luther King Jr., Angela Davis and other activists made her a target of the agency, according to the documents.
The feds repeatedly kept tabs on her addresses, phone numbers and activities — as well as those she associated with, including other singers like Sammy Davis Jr.
In a 1968 document discussing plans for MLK’s funeral — which Franklin performed at — the FBI noted that the service could be a “radical situation.”
“Sammy Davis Jr., Aretha Franklin… of this group, some have supported militant Black power concept… [performance at MLK memorial by these prominent entertainers] would provide emotional spark which could ignite racial disturbance in this area,” the file said, according to the outlet.
Agents also tried to link the “Chain of Fools” singer to the Black Liberation Army. In one of the documents, the feds flagged her 1971 contract with Atlantic Records “just in case” there was any link to the Black Panther Party.
Despite the FBI’s extensive surveillance, the agency never discovered anything that linked Franklin to radical or extremist behavior, according to the file.
“It does make me feel a certain way knowing the FBI had her targeted and wanted to know her every move” her son said.
“But at the same time knowing my mother and the way she ran her business I know she had nothing to hide so they wouldn’t have found anything and were wasting their time. As you see…they found nothing at all.”
In addition to the surveillance, the FBI’s file also included reports of threats made against the star — including a 1974 letter that referenced her minister father, C.L. Franklin, just months before he was shot and wounded.
“Dear Aretha…I’m still in charge of you…I’m not to be crossed…you should be…paying me some of my money…evidently your advisors do not know the dangers of neglecting what I’m saying…I would hate to drag [your father] into this,” the letter read.
Franklin is among the prominent black entertainers — including Marvin Gaye and Jimi Hendrix — that the government has kept tabs on since the civil rights movement.