Seven hours into the Celebration of Life Service for Aretha Franklin, Rev. Jasper Williams took 43 minutes to eulogize her by preaching to the Black family. He used as a subject from which to preach, “Aretha: The Queen of Soul.”
He defined “soul” as that essence of God in the human body.
Williams, a lifelong friend, was hand picked by Franklin to be her eulogist. He had eulogized her father, the late C. L. Franklin in August 1984.
In his eulogy, Williams made good use of his knowledge of Franklin’s commitment to the advancement of the Black community. Last week he had said that he would approach his task by addressing “the life of Franklin, the word of God and society as it is presently constituted.”
He talked about the pain Franklin endured as a child. She was raised by her father after her mother left the family home. He said that the pain of Franklin’s early childhood was evident in her first few songs.
Throughout the day long service, pulpit participants talked about Franklin’s service to the civil rights movement and the altruistic measures she freely provided to people in need of help.
Williams, in eulogizing her, put Franklin’s service to the Black community into the context of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s question; and I paraphrase, now that the Queen has returned to pure energy, “Where do we go from here.”
The title of his sermon was “Aretha: The Queen of Soul.” His theme was that the “Black community has lost its soul.”
He then posited: “If we are truthful, if we are honest and if we are fair, Black America has lost its soul. The one thing Black America needs to do today is to come back to God.”
His sermon was punctuated with Franklin’s call to urgency, “Something must be done, something must be done, something must be done.”
Franklin would then find ways to help, or she would cajole others to help. Williams does not think this is a prescription for a future without Franklin. He called upon Black people to be accountable for their community.
“Where is your soul Black man,” Williams rhetorically queried.
“A study conducted by Tuskegee Institute shows how 3,495 Black people had been killed by the Klu Klux Klan over an 86 year period. But Blacks killed that same number of Black people every six months, that means that we kill over 6,000 Black people a year, that means that over 86 years we killed 592,712 Black people,” he cited.
“It amazes me,” Williams preached, “how it is that when the police kill one of us we are ready to protest, to march, to destroy some property. But when we kill 100 of us nobody says anything, nobody wants to do anything. We are locked up in our minds. There has got to be a better way. We must stop this today,” he said.
“Where is your soul Black man,” Williams bellowed.
Williams rhetorically asks: “Does Black lives matter?”
“Black lives do not matter, black lives will not matter, black lives ought not matter, Black lives should not matter, Black lives must not matter, Black lives can't matter until Black people stop killing our people,” Williams quickly answered his own question.
“Where is your soul, where is your God… What can we leave her today to say the Queen’s legacy is doing to turn our race around, the eyes of the world is upon us today,” he asked?
“We don’t need the government to give us better houses, we need better homes,” he preached.
“We got to turn our houses back into a home. I am calling for pastors… to lock our arms together now, and we can turn Black America around…right in your neighborhoods where your churches are. We can turn Black America around,” he said.
“It is time to come back home and turn back to our God,” William proclaimed to the Black community.
“The Queen is speaking now, it’s time for Black America to come back home. We have wandered far away from God, but now it is time to come back to God,” he said.
“The Queen did what she could, it is time now for us to do what we can,” he hooped.
Then Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder closed out the celebration service.
Williams drew immediate sharp criticism from fans of Franklin who were hoping they would hear a eulogy that fit their image of the iconic Franklin. However, Williams, a personal friend, knew the authentic Franklin and delivered a sermon that was true to the soul of Franklin and not one that was compatible with the politically correct image those who did not know her personally have of her.
Like the prophets of old biblical times, Williams prophesied to the people of God, chastising them and telling the people to turn from the pleasures of the flesh and get right with God.
As in the days of old, Williams prophecy was rejected by the community it was intended to deliver from the clutches of injustice and inequality.
Despite earlier in the day former President Bill Clinton concluded his remarks with essentially the same message, by urging Black people to “Think. It is the road to freedom,” he had instructed.
Although, Franklin was universally loved, Williams chose to preach to the soul of Franklin’s dedication to the uplift of Black people rather than to the universal iconic appeal she had engendered. Thus the official last good word on the life and times of the Queen of Soul.
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