Angela Davis: Aretha Franklin Offered to Post Bail for Me, Saying “Black People Will Be Free”

In 1970, Aretha Franklin offered to post bail for Angela Davis, who was jailed on trumped-up charges. Aretha Franklin told Jet magazine in 1970, “My daddy says I don’t know what I’m doing. Well, I respect him, of course, but I’m going to stick by my beliefs. Angela Davis must go free. Black people will be free. I’ve been locked up (for disturbing the peace in Detroit) and I know you got to disturb the peace when you can’t get no peace. Jail is hell to be in. I’m going to see her free if there is any justice in our courts, not because I believe in communism, but because she’s a Black woman and she wants freedom for Black people. I have the money; I got it from Black people—they’ve made me financially able to have it—and I want to use it in ways that will help our people.” We speak with activist and scholar Angela Davis about what Aretha Franklin meant to her.

TRANSCRIPT:

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to 1970. Aretha Franklin offered to post bail for Angela Davis, who was jailed on trumped-up charges. And I want to read from a Jetmagazine article from December 3rd, 1970. It’s headlined “Aretha Says She’ll Go Angela’s Bond If Permitted.” In it, Aretha Franklin is quoted saying, “My daddy says I don’t know what I’m doing. Well, I respect him, of course, but I’m going to stick by my beliefs. Angela Davis must go free. Black people will be free. I’ve been locked up (for disturbing the peace in Detroit) and I know you got to disturb the peace when you can’t get no peace. Jail is hell to be in. I’m going to see her free if there is any justice in our courts, not because I believe in communism, but because she’s a Black woman and she wants freedom for Black people. I have the money; I got it from Black people—they’ve made me financially able to have it—and I want to use it in ways that will help our people.” Those the words of Aretha Franklin. She’s talking about professor Angela Davis, who joins us now from Martha’s Vineyard.

Professor Davis, Angela, welcome to Democracy Now!

ANGELA DAVIS: Thank you, Amy. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to have you with us. Can you talk about your thoughts on this day, the day after we learn of the death of Aretha Franklin, and what she meant to you?

ANGELA DAVIS: Well, of course, this is a very sad day for people all over the country. Aretha was an integral part of many people’s lives, including my own, and not only because she made a public statement indicating that she would pay my bail back in 1970. But perhaps I’ll say a few words about that, to begin.

When Aretha decided to hold a press conference announcing that she would pay up to $250,000, which in today’s currency would be probably about a million-and-a-half dollars, it was really a high point in the campaign. And I believe that many people who may have been reluctant to associate themselves with me because of my communist affiliations probably joined the campaign as a result of Aretha’s statement.

When I was actually—when I actually became eligible for bail, unfortunately, Aretha was out of the country. She was in the Caribbean. And during those days, prior to the emergence of global capitalism, money did not flow so easily across national borders, and therefore, [inaudible] elsewhere, a white farmer from Central California who agreed to put up his farm.

But that was such a moving moment. It was a moment in which the campaign for my freedom achieved a really populist status among people in this country, and probably throughout the world, as well. I will be forever grateful to Aretha, because I think she played such an integral role in—of the success of the campaign.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, you never actually met Aretha Franklin, did you?

ANGELA DAVIS: Well, I feel as if I met her, but I—because I feel she’s a part of my history. And her music was so much a part of and continues to be so much a part of my own individual life, as well as my collective lives. But I never actually met her in person.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain the circumstances at that time, what was happening to you? Which also talks about who Aretha Franklin is, that she came out so strongly and, so interestingly, talked about the fact that she was thrown in the can. She was jailed in her own home city of Detroit.

ANGELA DAVIS: Yes, absolutely. As you pointed out, she said she had already been jailed for disturbing the peace. And it seems as if she realized that it might be necessary to disturb the peace a bit further. But, of course, the fact that I was a member of the Communist Party at that time made many people reluctant to offer public support, because they thought they might be associated with communism, and thus might be placing their own lives in jeopardy.

I was charged with murder, kidnapping and conspiracy—three capital charges. And at the time when Aretha made this statement, I was actually not eligible for bail, because capital offenses were not bailable. As it turned out, the Supreme Court of California abolished, at least temporarily, the death penalty in California, which meant that for a short while I was eligible for bail. I’m one of the few people who were actually released, because within a few days the Supreme Court amended its decision by indicating that all previously capital offenses would remain non-bailable.

AMY GOODMAN: And you were held here in New York, right? Not far from the studios of Democracy Now! And California was seeking your extradition. You were pending extradition to San Rafael, California.

ANGELA DAVIS: Well, actually, yes. I had been in jail at the Women’s House of Detention in Greenwich Village in New York. But I had, at that time, already been extradited. I was in a jail in Palo Alto. I had been—it’s a long story. I had been extradited to Marin County, and then we got a change of venue to Santa Clara County. So, when I was actually released on bail, it was from the jail in Palo Alto.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to talk more about her involvement in the civil rights movement, in front of the scenes and behind the scenes, and her just remarkable music and contribution, as many have called her, as Mark Anthony Neal said, Aretha Franklin, arguably the greatest American singer of the 20th century. We’re talking to Angela Davis, Mark Anthony Neal, head of African American & African Studies at Duke University, and also Farah Jasmine Griffin of Columbia University. Stay with us.

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AMY GOODMAN: “Do Right Woman–Do Right Man” by Aretha Franklin, who died this week at the age of 76. The Apollo marquee is emblazoned with her name, the Queen of Soul. I’m Amy Goodman.