Louis Farrakhan, from left, Rev. Al Sharpton, Rev. Jesse Jackson and former President Bill Clinton attend the funeral service for Aretha Franklin at Greater Grace Temple, Friday, Aug. 31, 2018, in Detroit. Franklin died Aug. 16, 2018 of pancreatic cancer at the age of 76. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Former presidents and preachers joined a parade of music stars and other speakers Friday in a singing, hip-swaying, piano-pounding farewell to Aretha Franklin, remembering the Queen of Soul as a powerful force for musical and political change and a steadfast friend and family member.
“Aretha’s singing challenged the dangling discords of hate and lies and racism and injustice,” the pastor William J. Barber II said. “Her singing was revelation and was revolution.”
In a send-off both grand and personal, a celebrity lineup of mourners filled the same Detroit church that hosted Rosa Parks’ funeral and offered prayers, songs and dozens of tributes. Guests included former President Bill Clinton, former first lady Hillary Clinton, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson.
Robinson, the Motown great, remembered first hearing Franklin play piano when he was just 8 and remained close to her for the rest of her life. They talked for hours at a time.
“You’re so special,” he said, before crooning a few lines from his song “Really Gonna Miss You,” with the line “really gonna be different without you.”
Bill Clinton described himself as an Aretha Franklin “groupie,” saying he had loved her since college. He traced her life’s journey, praising her as someone who “lived with courage, not without fear, but overcoming her fears.”
He remembered attending her last public performance, at Elton John’s AIDS Foundation benefit in November in New York. She looked “desperately ill” but managed to greet him by standing and saying, “How you doing, baby?”
Her career, Clinton noted, spanned from vinyl records to cellphones. He held the microphone near his iPhone and played a snippet of Franklin’s classic “Think,” the audience clapping along.
“It’s the key to freedom!” Clinton said.
Lasting more than six hours, the service at Greater Grace Temple encompassed many elements, emotions and regal entrances that were hallmarks of Franklin’s more than six decades on sacred and secular stages. She was remembered as the pride of Detroit and a citizen of the world.
Actress Cicely Tyson reworked the Paul Laurence Dunbar poem “When Malindy Sings” to “When Aretha Sings.” Music mogul Clive Davis, who helped revive Franklin’s career in the 1980s, described her as a loving friend and a dedicated and unpredictable artist, whose passions ranged from soul to ballet. He remembered her turning up at a tribute to him in a tutu.
“There was the Queen of Soul, accompanied by members of the City Center Ballet Company,” he recalled, with Franklin “doing well-rehearsed pirouettes and dancing with most impressive agility and dignity. It was wonderful.”
Jennifer Hudson, whom Franklin said she wanted to play her in a movie about her life, brought the crowd to its feet with a rousing “Amazing Grace.” Ariana Grande sang one of the Queen’s biggest hits, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” and Faith Hill performed “What a Friend We Have In Jesus.”
The Aretha Franklin Orchestra opened the funeral with a medley featuring “I Say a Little Prayer,” ”Angel” and other songs she was known for, along with such gospel numbers as “I Love the Lord” and “Walk in the Light.”
A statement from former President George W. Bush that was read to the crowd said Franklin would “continue to bring joy to millions for generations to come.” The Rev. Al Sharpton read a statement from former President Barack Obama, who wrote that Franklin’s “work reflected the very best of the American story.”
Sharpton received loud cheers when he denounced President Donald Trump for saying that the singer “worked for” him as he responded to her death. “She performed for you,” Sharpton said of Franklin, who had sung at Trump-owned venues. “She worked for us.”
“She gave us pride. She gave us a regal bar to reach. She represented the best in our community,” Sharpton said.
Many noted her longtime commitment to civil rights and lasting concern for the poor. The Rev. Jesse Jackson urged attendees to honor her memory and register to vote. Her friend Greg Mathis, the reality show host and retired Michigan judge, recalled his last conversation with her. They talked about the tainted water supply in Flint. “You go up there and sock it to ’em,” she urged Mathis, paraphrasing the “sock it to me” refrain from “Respect.”
Franklin died Aug. 16 at age 76.
Her body arrived in a 1940 Cadillac LaSalle hearse. She wore a shimmering gold dress, with sequined heels — the fourth outfit Franklin was clothed in during a week of events leading up to her funeral.
The casket was carried to the church that also sent Franklin’s father, the renowned minister C.L. Franklin, to his and Parks’ final resting place at Woodlawn Cemetery, where the singer will join them. Pink Cadillacs filled the street outside the church, a reference to a Franklin hit from the 1980s, “Freeway of Love.”
Program covers showed a young Franklin, with a slight smile and sunglasses perched on her nose, and the caption “A Celebration Fit For The Queen.”
Detroit plans to honor one of its most famous residents. Mayor Mike Duggan announced during the service that the city would rename the riverfront amphitheater Chene Park to “Aretha Franklin Park.”
Family members, among them granddaughter Victorie Franklin and niece Cristal Franklin, spoke with awe and affection as they remembered a world-famous performer who also loved gossip and kept pictures of loved ones on her piano.
Grandson Jordan directed his remarks directly to Franklin, frequently stopping to fight back tears.
“I’m sad today, because I’m losing my friend. But I know the imprint she left on this world can never be removed. You showed the world God’s love, and there’s nothing more honorable.”
Prisoners in 17 U.S. states went on strike on Aug. 21 by refusing to eat or work to call attention to a number of troubling issues, including dilapidated facilities, harsh sentences and other aspects of mass incarceration in America.
As we approach Labor Day, the strike places a spotlight on the questionable practice of putting prisoners to work for very low or no wages. Examples of what incarcerated people do or have done include answering customer service phone calls, fighting wildfires, packaging Starbucks coffee and producing consumer goods such as lingerie.
But this practice may run afoul of several U.S. legal commitments – including the 13th Amendment ending slavery – and even violates voluntary codes of conduct of some of the companies involved.
I belong to a group of scholars of U.S. constitutional law, labor law and history from several universities, who see the 13th Amendment as about more than 19th-century slavery, even if that was its primary genesis.
Rather, we consider it a continuing obligation on governments and private companies to root out all forms of economic exploitation, even when it is done within prison walls.
Prisoners at work around the world
Prison labor is widely used in many countries throughout the world on every continent, involving an estimated 36 million people.
Proponents of forcing inmates to work justify it as a way for prisoners to repay their debt to society and to provide skills that will be useful at the end of prison sentences. They say it also partially offsets the high costs of mass incarceration, recently estimated at US$182 billion a year nationwide.
The U.S. government has often admonished other countries such as Burma and China for using forced labor to build pipelines or make goods or in times of national emergency. Yet the truth is, it’s just as prevalent in the U.S. as elsewhere, with the Department of the Navy and Minnesota among the governmental entities sued for minimum wage violations in prisons.
In fact, a 2004 economic analysis of labor in both state and federal prison estimated that in the previous year inmates produced more than $2 billion worth of commodities, both goods and services.
Unlike other countries, however, forced prison labor in the U.S. must be reconciled with the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which is most famous for forbidding the practice of slavery.
The 13th Amendment, ratified in 1865, states in full:
“Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime for which the person has been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States or any place subject to its jurisdiction. Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this Article by appropriate legislation.”
The first section of the amendment makes clear that people convicted of a crime can be forced to work as punishment but says nothing about whether they have to be compensated.
And according to the second, Congress clearly has the power to regulate inmate labor in federal prisons but has not done so. Lawmakers have, however, passed other laws that may already apply to prisoners with jobs, such as the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which guarantees a minimum wage and overtime to all of those employed in the U.S.
While some U.S. courts have suggested that prisoners working for private companies be paid like other employees, there’s been no definitive decision on this issue.
Expanding its meaning
The group to which I belong, known as the Thirteenth Amendment Project, aims to find ways to use the Amendment to reduce economic injustice in the U.S. and tackle problems such as minimum labor standards and mass incarceration.
In our view, the meaning of “involuntary servitude” in the amendment has a wider reach than simply the abusive arrangements that were in place in 1865. We believe it should also include modern conditions facing immigrant workers, detainees and workers bound to abusive contractual work arrangements – the kind that the Supreme Court struck down in the 20th century.
In addition, the Reconstruction-era drafters of the Amendment sought to prevent the newly freed slaves from becoming unfair competition in the labor force. So they instituted labor protections into the infrastructure of the Freedman’s Bureau, which Congress set up in 1865 to help former black slaves as well as poor whites in the South in the aftermath of the Civil War.
The Freedmen’s Bureau offers evidence of the role that Congress envisioned under the amendment to protect freed slaves and others against exploitation and unfair competition – which, in my view, are both at issue today in the context of unpaid prison labor.
Beyond domestic law, there’s the issue of the United States’ obligations under international human rights conventions.
The U.S. is a member of the International Labor Organization, which as a core principle requires the elimination of forced and compulsory labor within its borders.
The organization also established a convention on forced labor in 1930. It makes clear that while governments in some circumstances can use forced labor, the work cannot be “hired or placed at the disposal of private individuals, companies or associations.”
The U.S. is one of only nine countries that have not ratified this convention, putting it in the company of countries like Afghanistan, China and Brunei. The reason often given is that the 13th Amendment already covers forced labor. But as I’ve shown, the question of compensation is an open one.
The strike’s legacy
The prisoners currently protesting their poor treatment and conditions probably may not expect that it will lead to the end of prison labor.
And whether or not the 13th Amendment or international conventions ultimately limit or end the practice – or at least require fair compensation – will likely depend on the United States Supreme Court.
The real success of the prison strike, set to last through Sept. 9, may be whether consumers become more aware that some of the coffee, clothing and even school supplies they buy may have passed through the hands of inmates, who were paid little to nothing for the work.
Bishop Talbert Swan, the leader of the Church of God in Christ’s Nova Scotia jurisdiction, addresses a summit of the Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 21, 2018. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks
An African-American bishop of the Church of God in Christ and frequent critic of President Trump said his personal Twitter account has been permanently suspended, apparently for using a racially sensitive term.
Bishop Talbert Swan, a Massachusetts pastor and a Nova Scotia jurisdictional leader for the predominantly black Pentecostal denomination, said he received an email from Twitter on Friday (Aug. 24) informing him of the suspension.
“Your account has been suspended and will not be restored because it was found to be violating Twitter’s Terms of Service, specifically the Twitter Rules against hateful conduct,” the company told him.
Swan, who said he had more than 70,000 followers, suspects the specific cause of the suspension is his use of the word “coon,” a term the website etymonline.com says is sometimes used as an insult about a black person. The word in this sense stems from the word “barracoon” and is based on the Portuguese word “barraca” that refers to an enclosure for slaves who were transported in West Africa, Cuba and Brazil.
But Swan says the meaning of the word depends on the context.
“I think Twitter needs to be educated culturally to understand that when black people use that term they mean it in the context of someone who’s African-American that they consider to be a traitor or a sellout or someone who is speaking or doing things that is not in the best interest of the African-American community,” he said. “And, in my instance, those who parrot alt-right, racist ideology.”
On June 2, Swan tweeted in response to a suggestion that he follow someone with whom he disagreed, “No thanks I’m on a no coon diet.”
Last week, more than half a dozen Twitter users noted that they had reported Swan and posted screenshots of responses they had received confirming that @TalbertSwan had violated Twitter’s rules of discourse.
One, @Gerald_Anzano, specifically connected Twitter’s notice of suspension with Swan’s “coon” tweet, adding, “Using God as a shield to promulgate spewing hatred? Expect to be called out.”
Swan, who is president of the NAACP’s Springfield, Mass., chapter, said he first got wind of his suspension from these posts. He calls those users “my detractors”; several describe themselves on Twitter as supporting Trump.
Swan provided Religion News Service with recent tweets from his account that were critical of Trump and the president’s Christian supporters.
“Real Christians don’t make excuses, support, dismiss, or defend pathological lying, sexual deviancy, malignant narcissism, white supremacy & bigotry,” he wrote in an Aug. 19 tweet that received more than 26,000 likes. “I don’t give a hell how many conservative judges you get, you cannot be a Christian & defend @realDonaldTrump. Plain and simple.”
Swan recently used his account to post an open letter criticizing pastors who met with Trump. Swan said he has also complained that liberal Democrats take blacks’ votes for granted. A fan of the Boston Celtics and Pittsburgh Steelers, he also posted his musings about sports.
Twitter did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the matter.
In its email message to Swan, the company wrote, “It is against our rules to promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or disease.
“Additionally, if we determine that the primary purpose of an account is to incite harm towards others on the basis of these categories, that account may be suspended without prior warning.”
Others questioned Swan’s suspension, including @ReignOfApril, who tweeted: “He’s a COGIC bishop, for goodness sakes.”
Swan himself said he doesn’t understand why the personal Twitter account of conservative radio host Alex Jones was recently suspended for a week for violating rules about inciting violence, while his account appears to have been suspended permanently.
“When you get the president calling a black woman a dog or Roseanne (Barr) calling a black woman a gorilla and they still have their accounts on the forum,” the bishop said, “to say that me making a reference to a coon is the catalyst for a permanent suspension, then you have to question how they enforce their terms of service.”