The family of the late Aretha Franklin has recently added its disgruntlement to a surging wave of critical remarks from fans and supporters alike, describing the comments of the eulogist, the Rev. Jasper Williams Jr. as “offensive and distasteful.”
Williams, 75, a longtime friend of the family and pastor emeritus of Salem Bible Church in Atlanta, previously delivered the eulogy for several members of the clan, including Aretha’s father, the Rev. C.L. Franklin, who died in 1984, as well as her brother and sister.
However, a statement issued to Reuters provided by the family expressed discontent as to the focus of Williams’ eulogy on Friday, Aug. 31 in Detroit which provided little comfort to mourners but stated volumes on social issues he says still plague the Black community. The statement went on, accusing him of using the pulpit to “push his negative agenda” — one with which Franklin’s family “does not agree.”
“Rev. Jasper Williams spent more than 50 minutes speaking and at no time did he properly eulogize her,” Franklin’s nephew, Vaughn Franklin, said in a statement issued on behalf of the family Monday.
“My aunt did not ask [him] to eulogize her before she passed away because dying is a topic that she never discussed with anyone,” Franklin added, countering Williams’ assertion that he had been asked by the entertainer well before her death because she “trusted me to
Williams addressed mounting criticism during a press conference on Sunday, Sept. 2, standing firm on his more contested opinions rendered during the eulogy, including his view that “Black America has lost its soul and needs to return to God.”
But it would be his attack on today‘s Black family, particularly his belief in the inability of single mothers to raise Black boys to become men, describing households without a father figure as “abortion after birth,” that has been so severely repudiated.
Fans and family alike have interpreted his words to be a not-so-subtle denouncement of the beloved entertainer and the choices she made throughout her life, including her decision to raise her four children as a single mother.
REACTIONS VARY ON WILLIAMS’ EULOGY
Reactions to Williams’ eulogy have taken a wide range and include the following:
Barbara Arnwine, founder, Transformative Justice Coalition: “Correction Rev. Williams. Black mothers have been raising Black boys for years. Were still raising proud, accomplished and aware Black men. I should have known. This eulogy was the ranting of a confused Black conservative.”
Rep. Chaz Beasley, NC House District 92: “No disrespect to Jasper Williams but my single mother raised me to be a man pretty well.”
Bill Madden, Baltimore-based activist: “A Black woman cannot raise a Black boy to become a man? Who invited this Trump-loving, misogynistic [expletive] from a bygone era?”
Sylvia K. Alston, producer, SiriusXM: “Jasper Williams was a disaster. Misogynistic, exposing, said Black lives don‘t matter, referred to us all as zombies with lost souls. Shameful.”
Michael Twitty, author, “The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South”: “Dear Jasper Williams, I am a Black man who was raised predominantly by a Black woman. I have never slaughtered my people and never will. I own my own business. I’m one of very few African Americans with a James Beard Award; I have two. I’m gay and a productive citizen. Bless your heart.”
Dr. Greg Carr, chair, Howard University Department of Afro American Studies: “A Jasper Williams radio sermon/LPs# I heard as a kid on Nashville’s #WLAC was his Bible verse-based ‘I fell in love with a prostitute.’ He went left yesterday but not really outside his doctrine. What does an honest and informed critique look like today?”
MORE ‘FITTING’ TESTIMONIES FROM BLACK PREACHERS
As for other ministers from among the Black Church who could have more adequately served as the eulogist, a word whose meaning can be traced back to the Greek New Testament meaning a person who “speaks a good word about one who has died,” Franklin’s nephew did not mince words.
“There were several people that my aunt admired who would have been outstanding individuals to deliver her eulogy including Dr. William J. Barber, Rev. Al Sharpton, Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, Rev. James Holley and Pastor E.L. Branch,” he said, perhaps referring to three who spoke during the funeral: Barber,
Sharpton and Dyson.
Barber, who will deliver the keynote address at the Phoenix Awards Sept. 15 during the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 48th Annual Legislative Conference, described Aretha Franklin as one who “specialized in singing that moved the soul.”
“When she sang, she lifted the downtrodden as her voice moved with our tears,” he said in his remarks given during the funeral. “A certain sacredness was always present, whether she was singing gospel or pop, because she was singing about the experiences of a people who had to cry in order not to die,” Barber said.
Sharpton, known for his unique ability to tell l moving stories, shared the lesson he learned during his mother’s final moments, using it to express his message to his cherished friend, Aretha Franklin.
“My mother told me I’d never have any trouble recognizing her when I joined her in heaven because she would be standing at the exchange counter,” he said. “That’s where you drop off your cross and pick up your crown. Aretha had her own cross to bear. She often sang with a broken heart, worked without pay and faced the challenges of being a Black woman in a White man’s world.”
“But Aretha, you fought a good fight! I’ll see you one day at the exchange counter,” Sharpton concluded.
WI contributing writer Sarafina Wright contributed to this story.