Rev. Jasper Williams, eulogist for both Rev. C. L. Franklin and his daughter Aretha Franklin fired back at critics two days after delivering a blistering call to arms to the Black community at the celebration of life services for Aretha.
“I was just telling the truth. We have lost our soul as a race,” Williams said one day after his eulogy of the Queen of Soul.
Jasper, as he is simply known by his congregation at the Salem Bible Church in Southwest Atlanta, said he welcomed an opportunity to “explain the Biblical perspective” which formed the basis of his Queen of Soul eulogy.
He sauntered into a press conference held at Salem Bible Church flanked by Rev. Gerald Durley, an iconic civil rights leader and a mainstay in the Atlanta religious community on one side and with former Atlanta Chief of Police Eldrin Bell on the other side.
Williams unrepentedly spoke to the Atlanta media about his sermon, what he had hope to do with it and the national reaction to his eulogy.
“I was privileged to preach her funeral,” he began before taking questions.
“She asked me to do that, and the family asked me so here we are. I did the funeral on this past Friday,” he said, then opened the press conference up for questions.
Emmy Award winning journalist Maynard Eaton fired off the first question that got to the heart of the public response to Williams’ eulogy.
“Rev. Williams, You have had a chorus of critics, your reaction to the pushback,” Eaton queried.
“There is no pushback to what I said, it may be there was a misunderstanding about what I was saying,” Williams replied.
“I did not mean that women are not able to raise their children. I’m talking about too many single women struggling to raise their children…one of the ills in our community is that too many of our homes are headed by women without men in the house,” he began.
“There are many women who raised excellent men. Jesse Jackson, one of my dearest friends was raised by a single mother.The women need help in our homes and our race needs to become sensitive to that to be able to do that,” Williams said explaining his position on the role of women and men in the raising of Black boys.
“Was it the appropriate venue to preach this sermon,” Williams was asked?
“I was the eulogist, no one else but me was asked to bring the eulogy. I feel it was appropriate for me to say what I wanted to say and how it is that I wanted to say it... I sat there for seven hours almost before I got a chance to do what I was asked to do, so I could not get all the intricacies in there in the message, because it was too much time and people had grown weary of the hour” he said with authority.
Regarding his comments on Black on Black crime and Black Lives Matter, Williams reaffirmed his commitment to his eulogy thesis:
“I am saying that when we as a race sit back and get mad if a police officer kills one of us and we don’t say anything when 100 of us are killed by us, then something is wrong with that. I am not saying that Black lives do not matter in terms of the worth of a Black life. But what I am saying in essence is that it does not matter, ought not matter, should not matter, can not matter,until Black people began to Aretha (R.E.S.P.E.C.T.) respect Black lives; only then will Black lives matter, that is what I said and that is what I meant.”
Williams was asked if it bothered him that attention paid to his sermon does not offer the respect he believes people should extend to each other.
“It does not bother me.All I can do is to continue to work at what I am trying to do, to continue to work and help our people come out of the daze and trance that we are in, I don’t think we ought to continuously sit back and wait for somebody to help us. I think that our role as a race should come from within us and that we do for ourselves. Nobody can put values in people. We can’t pay for the government to give us the values that we ought to live by. Our values should come from within and somebody has got to care enough to say it and do it,” he said.
How is he handling the discord his eulogy has caused?
“We ought to respect each other enough to listen. I don’t care what another person’s opinion is. My opinion alone is not all gold. I am willing to listen to those kids. They’ve got somethings about themselves we all ought to pattern after, so if I am going to stand up here, I’m not standing up here to be the Lone Ranger, like I know everything, like I have been everywhere and done everything, because I have not. It is going to take all of us to turn Black America around, even those who don’t want to help,” he said.
Will he lash out against the harsh language used by many of his critics?
“I understand the pain. I understand the hurt. I understand a community where we don’t have any economical growth anymore. We own no drug stores, no grocery stores, no banks. We don’t have anything in our community but devastation, so I understand the pain. I understand the hurt. All I am asking is, I will listen to you and that will be fine and whatever you say to me is fine, but I am not going to respond to you sweet people negatively. All I ask is for you to come on board. I’ll help you, you help us and together we turn our race around,” he averred.
Does he fear his eulogy will lead to Trumpsters taking advantage of the Black community?
“Nobody can do anything for us but us and until we reach down on the inside of ourselves and touch our soul and decide it is time to turn around. Until that happens it does not make any difference how much money the government would give… To me this is not about dollars. This has got to be about an inner calling of the inner man to do what is right about our people,” Williams said.
Why not back up or back down and retract his sermon?
“The answer to our problems is not back or down. The answer to our problem is forward and up and that is what I would like to see us do.”
Again was this the appropriate place and time?
“I was the eulogist. I was the one asked to eulogize her. I feel I did it appropriately. I think I honored Aretha through it and I feel in honoring her, I picked out various conditions going on in our community. I tried to do the best that I could. We all mess up sometimes, sometimes you don’t preach as good as you think you can. After sitting there seven hours all the preaching I had in me was gone and I took the opportunity to do the best that I could under the circumstances and situation that I was in. I meant nobody no harm and yet I meant the truth.”
What was the good word about Aretha from the eulogy?
“The good word that relates to Aretha as I see it is going forward as Black America changes we immortalize her with what she said, ‘R.E.S.E.P.C.T.’ She will be at the root of this pivotal turn and change that we are hoping can come about in Black America,” he emphatically said.
Harold Michael Harvey is an American novelist and essayist. He is a Contributor at The Hill, SCLC National Magazine, Southern Changes Magazine, Medium and Black College Nines. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org