Monday, June 4, 2012

Rev. C.L. Franklin

Clarence LaVaughn Walker was born in 1915 in Sunflower County, Mississippi, to Willie and Rachel Walker, who worked as sharecroppers in the Mississippi Delta. Clarence, known as C.L., barely knew his father when he returned from service in World War I in 1919. C.L. later recalled that the only thing his father ever taught him was how to salute. Soon after coming back from the war, Willie Walker abandoned his family. Clarence was only four years old. The next year, Rachel married Henry Franklin, and the family adopted his name.

At age 16, C.L. Franklin became an itinerant Baptist preacher, and initially travelled the circuit of black churches in the Delta. Before long, he was called to be the pastor at New Salem Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, until 1944, when he moved to a church in Buffalo, New York. In 1946, he became pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan, where he would remain for the rest of his life and career. During the late 1940s and 1950s, Franklin's popularity grew as a revival preacher. Known as a minister with a "Million Dollar Voice," Franklin was one of the first to record his sermons on records, and was one of the first to broadcast his sermons on the radio on Sundays.  Among his most famous sermons were "The Eagle Stirreth Her Nest" and "Dry Bones in the Valley." In addition to his preaching, Franklin was a successful gospel singer. In all, he recorded 76 albums of sermons and gospel music during his career.

His personal life was a bit less successful, unfortunately. In 1934, he married Alene Gaines, a marriage which lasted only two years. He then married Barbara Siggers, with whom he had four children, in addition to her son, Vaughn, who C.L. Franklin adopted. In 1948, C.L. and Barbara Franklin separated after he fathered a child with a young member of his congregation. Barbara moved to Buffalo, taking Vaughn with her, leaving her four other children with her husband (they never divorced). From then until her death in 1952, the children visited their mother in New York during summer vacations. Otherwise, they were raised by C.L. Franklin. Rev. Franklin did not attend his wife's funeral.
In addition to his church work, C.L. Franklin was very active in the Civil Rights movement, and worked for the rights of blacks in the United Auto Workers. Franklin was a close friend of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as gospel singers Mahalia Jackson and Clara Ward (in fact, he had a long-time relationship with Ward). In June 1963, Franklin was one of the organizers of the Detroit "Walk to Freedom," which attracted more than 50,000 marchers. During the event, Dr. King delivered the first version of his 'I Have a Dream' speech. In the picture here, Rev. Franklin is to the right of Dr. King. Although he later rented his church to members of the militant Republic of New Africa, which resulted in a shooting outside the church which left one Detroit policeman dead and another wounded, Rev. Franklin is remembered as a Civil Rights pioneer in Detroit.              

On Sunday, June 10, 1979, Franklin was shot twice at point blank range during a robbery at his home in Detroit. Taken to the Henry Ford Hospital, he remained in a coma for the next five years. When he was shot, one was his daughters, Aretha Franklin, was performing at the Aladdin Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Aretha rushed back to Detroit as soon as she heard the news. She and the other children moved him back to the house after six months and hired a 24-hour nurse to stay with Rev. Franklin. He died on July 27, 1984, one week after being placed in a nursing home. He was 69 years old. During his funeral at New Bethel Baptist Church, 3,000 mourners, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Jr., crowded into the church, while another 6,000 gathered outside. Franklin is buried at Detroit's Woodlawn Cemetery. 

Rev. Franklin's most famous daughter was born when her father was pastor of New Salem Baptist Church in Memphis (the house she was born in, lower right, is still standing). After her mother died of a heart attack when she was nine years old, Aretha Franklin  (right) joined her father's traveling gospel show and recorded her first gospel tracks at the church in Detroit at age fourteen. While on tour with her father, she was mentored by Mahalia Jackson, Sam Cooke and Clara Ward. With a musical foundation formed in her father's church, the "Queen of Soul" went on to win eight Grammys, was the first woman inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and was presented with a Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush, among many other honors and awards. 

Photo sources:
Young Franklin:
Eagle album:
Franklin in chair:
Civil Rights March:
Aretha birthplace:
Young Aretha:

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