I watched several hours of The Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin’s funeral or homegoing (which word you choose is likely a reflection of your cultural origin) on Friday, but I must admit I missed the The Rev. Jasper Williams Jr.’s (pastor emeritus of Salem Bible Church in Atlanta, Georgia) eulogy of the Queen of Soul on Friday. I mostly watched to hear some good ole black church saaangin and see who was there! Yes, I can be shallow like that. But as far as what the pastors and preachers had to say, I figured it would be what we always hear at funerals – some variation of the person was a good person or decent person, etc. (eulogy definition – a speech or piece of writing that praises someone or something highly, typically someone who has just died.) and a come- to-Jesus- while-there- is- yet-blood-running-through-your-veins appeal at the end. I’m in church every Sunday and when I was growing up that was every Sunday and Wednesday so I’ve been to many many church services and funerals/homegoings. But I’m not a preacher nor a pastor and don’t aspire to such a controversial calling but I probably could plan a pretty decent church service or homegoing if I was called upon to do so.
All that being said (written), that was why I didn’t pay attention. Some of you may wonder well wouldn’t that apply to black church saangin too. Probably but given the fact that this was the Queen of Soul’s homegoing, I figured the music would be on another level and it was. But I digress. So later on Friday, after this homegoing of all homegoings had finally commenced, I saw all kinds of chatter online regarding Rev. Williams’ eulogy.
From the AJC Article Pastor Who Delivered Aretha Franklin’s Controversial Eulogy Speaks Out:
“I need people to know that this eulogy was not reflective of God nor was it honoring to #arethafranklin nor did it offer comfort to the bereaved or give hope for tomorrow. It was, in fact, trash. And as long as we don’t boldly call this out we are complicit.”
“Aretha Franklin was a mother of four black boys, two of them she had as a teenager. She was all set to bail Angela Davis out of jail. Raised money for the CRM. This eulogy is disrespectful to her legacy. I’m upset. #ArethaHomegoing”
But since I hadn’t taken it in for myself, I had no thoughts on it. However, my mother told me my father, pastor emeritus of our church, Central Christian Church in Southwest Atlanta, approved it. So I was like, “Uh oh, if my father likes it” but many people that I “know” online don’t like it, there must be an old school/new school dynamic at work.
So finally this morning, I watched it and I kept waiting to be outraged, incensed at the implications and or Trump thread throughout the tirade, but I just wasn’t. Maybe if I had a theology degree as many people who have criticized the message do, maybe I would feel differently. But as a lay person with my own mind, I didn’t mind at all what Rev. Williams said. So below is not the thesis of a theological scholar and I highly respect them, but I respect my thoughts as well.
- As a student of history, I love a good history lesson. As a friend of the Franklin family who knew Aretha Franklin’s family and even delivered her own father the Rev. C.L. Franklin’s eulogy, the Rev. Jasper Williams Jr. offered a very knowledgeable perspective about how the Queen of Soul even came to be. I thought it was beautiful that this man who preached the gospel had enough insight to know his daughter did not have to confine herself to gospel music. Williams described in great detail how on one occasion, Rev. C.L. Franklin preached a gospel sermon in an auditorium in Memphis followed up by his daughter’s blues performance.
- Rev. Williams talked about how her iconic voice likely was developed. It was born of pain. The best artists of all kinds have gone through a measure of pain. And if you haven’t gone through pain, it’s hard to identify pleasure. In fact, pain and pleasure are twin souls and the most evocative of artistic expressions reflect both of them. Rev. C.L. Franklin’s home was a broken home and he was forced to raise four children on his own. It wasn’t the ideal situation, Rev. Williams noted and surely there must have been some pain felt along the way. It is likely that Aretha Franklin drew from that pain to sing the blues. I mean she made her first album at 14 years old! She was also 14 years old when she gave birth to her first son.
- A lot has been said about how Rev. Williams criticized single mothers when the Queen of Soul was likely a single parent for some time. I didn’t see that. He was saying a two-parent household is the optimum environment in which to raise a child. He was not saying that if you are a single parent, your child is doomed to fail nor was he saying that children from two-parent households always fare better than children raised in a signal parent household. We all know situations where that is not the case. But he was saying if it indeed took two people to form to a create a child, why wouldn’t it be optimum for then those two to raise that child? Now there are situations where that is impossible, but that is the model. Also, he wasn’t saying that aren’t any black fathers in the home, but we all know that this a problem that needs addressing. (In addition, there are many single parents who have chosen to adopt children and that is a choice that should be commended.)
- And there are others who believe that Rev. Williams criticized the Black Lives Matter movement. How Sway? He was saving that black lives do matter. And they matter whether we police officers take them or we take them. Yes, police officers shouldn’t kill innocent black people but neither should we. Now, I will admit I don’t like the phrase “black on black crime” because most people when they kill other people kill people from their own race so there is “white on white crime,” “brown on brown crime” and so on. But since his audience was largely black, he was directing to his words to black people. We can support the Black Lives Matter movement AND support eradicating unjust murders in which both parties are black. In fact, it would be pointless not to do so.
- Now about his message about the virtues of segregation versus integration. Many of us have said that when black people had to depend on each other, we were more prosperous in terms of creating and sustaining our business models. I’ve never lived through segregation and based on what I’ve learned, I have no desire to do so. But also from what I’ve been told by those who have lived during both times, a certain cohesiveness has been lost in the name of progress.
- Speaking of black communities, many people do walk around like zombies on all manner of mood enhancers (drugs). Now, there are other communities who are experiencing this as well (Hello opioid epidemic!) but he was directing the message to the audience. Why is that so upsetting? This remind me when one child is scolded and the child comes back with, “Well, he is doing wrong too” in reference to his brother. That may be the case, but that doesn’t negate your error either.
- Back to my first thought. Rev. Williams is the same age as Aretha Franklin when she died last month. Do you not think she didn’t know him? They must have grown up together! That funeral was eight-hours long with dignitaries far and wide but in the end a preacher who had eugologized her father was the one I would dare to say she and the family chose. I know the Queen of Soul belongs to the world, but she was a human being first and she (they) chose him. In sum, all I can say is if you like it, I love it. Who am I to criticize whom you chose to deliver your eulogy?
That’s all I got.
Also I want to note that this is NOT a case of the whole “touch not my anointed” thing in which people are scared to criticize and critique long-time and revered clergymen. NO ONE not even the clergy is above criticism and critique which is what happened with the priests who were allowed to commit pedophilia for years in the Catholic church…
Watch the whole thing for yourself below. What are your thoughts?