Aretha Franklin didn’t work for President Donald Trump, and Al Sharpton does not want anyone to forget that.
“I want to begin today by expressing my condolences to the family of a person I knew well — she worked for me on numerous occasions,” Trump said the day Franklin died. He seemed to think that performing while he was in attendance or at his casinos meant that Franklin worked for him, and that he had some kind of boss-subordinate relationship with her.
“When word went out that Ms. Franklin passed, Trump said, ‘She used to work for me,’” Sharpton said. “No, she used to perform for you. She worked for us.”
He added: “She stood for something, she never shamed us she never disgraced us. … She represented the best in our community, and she fought for our community until the end.”
Franklin wasn’t just a musical icon but also a civil rights and equality icon. She and her family were friends of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and she performed “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” at his funeral in 1968. And her rendition of “Respect” was a civil rights and feminist anthem — the importance of which she acknowledged in her 1999 autobiography.
“So many people identified with and related to ‘Respect’,” Franklin wrote. “It was the need of a nation, the need of the average man and woman in the street, the businessman, the mother, the fireman, the teacher — everyone wanted respect. It was also one of the battle cries of the civil rights movement. The song took on monumental significance.”
Sharpton’s rebuke of Trump and eulogy of Franklin’s civil rights significance comes as the Trump administration has enacted policies and used language to court white nationalism and denigrate nonwhite immigrants. Franklin herself was reportedly no fan of Trump and declined an invite to perform at his inauguration in 2017 (after famously performing at Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009). Sharpton used his time at Franklin’s memorial celebration to remind people of this.
“You know, the other Sunday on my show, I misspelled ‘Respect,’ and a lot of y’all corrected me,” he said. “Now, I want y’all to help me correct President Trump to help teach him what it means.”