The government has an unfortunate history of targeting high-profile individuals for political and racial reasons. Recently declassified documents show that Aretha Franklin was one of them.
The FBI spent 40 years tracking Franklin hoping to find ties to radical anti-American groups and activities, the New York Post reported. Despite four decades of surveillance, investigators came up empty.
The revelations came from a 270-page file on the "Respect" singer that outlined the FBI's use of "false phone calls, surveillance, infiltration, and highly-placed sources" to spy on Franklin from 1967 to 2007. The heavily redacted files were released to Rolling Stone in a Freedom of Information Act request in August 2018 following the singer's cancer death.
"I'm not really sure if my mother was aware that she was being targeted by the FBI and followed," son Kecalf Franklin said of his Queen of Soul mother. "I do know that she had absolutely nothing to hide, though."
The documents make no bones about what the feds were looking for. They were peppered with phrases like "pro-communist," "radical," "militant black power," and "racial violence" to justify the surveillance.
The FBI was suspicious of Franklin in part because of her ties to civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. A document from 1968 discusses King's funeral, where Franklin performed and which the government believed could incite a "radical situation."
The file also includes threats made against the "Chain of Fools" singer's minister father. A letter from 1974 appears to be a shakedown with a threat against C.L. Franklin, who would be shot months later.
Franklin was not the only black performer to receive this kind of treatment from the government. The FBI also followed Jimi Hendrix and Marvin Gaye during the civil rights movement.
Although the days where they could get away with this have passed, there's no reason to believe the feds are any better today. A healthy mistrust for the government is a hallmark of American culture -- and it appears there's good reason for it.