Nina Corcoran and Jazz Monroe explain at Pitchfork:
The FBI has declassified its file on the late Aretha Franklin. The document, which spans 270 pages and includes reports from more than a dozen states, shows that the FBI extensively tracked Franklin’s civil rights activism, particularly her friendships with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Angela Davis. Elsewhere, the file outlines reputable death threats against the singer and a massive copyright infringement case spawned from a Yahoo! Groups message board in 2005.
The notes on Franklin’s friendship with Dr. King include close documentation of her performances at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), of which King was president. The FBI characterizes the shows—which took place in Atlanta, Georgia, and Memphis, Tennessee, in 1967 and 1968—as “communist infiltration” events. A subsequent note in the file is titled “Assassination of Martin Luther King. Racial matters.” It alleges that Franklin was said to be involved in a free, “huge memorial concert” at Atlanta Stadium, donated by the Atlanta Braves. The show “would provide emotional spark which could ignite racial disturbance this area,” according to an FBI source. In the end, the SCLC scrapped that memorial service and held a three-mile procession to Morehouse College instead.
The tracking of Franklin’s ties to Angela Davis includes notes on her performance at a 1972 fundraiser in Los Angeles for the Angela Davis defense fund. The file notes that Davis was “facing murder-kidnapping charges in California” and that the concert was sponsored by the National United Committee to Free Angela Davis—“an organization founded by the Communist Party, United States of America.” Franklin had previously offered to post bail for Davis, though this was not documented.
The FBI identified Franklin as a prospective performer at supposedly threatening events far more often than she actually appeared at them. In 1971, for instance, an FBI source infiltrated the Boston branch of the Young Workers Liberation League, which was apparently planning an Angela Davis benefit that “might be held at the Boston Garden with Aretha Franklin.” Her planned performance at a Black Panther Party event in Los Angeles, which she canceled due to timing issues (for which she later apologized), is documented in a file covered in “Top Secret” and “Classified” stamps. “Bobby Seale, Chairman of the Black Panther Party, has directed the Los Angeles Black Panther Party to initiate plans for a major rally culminating in free food distribution to the poor black people in Los Angeles,” it reads. “Source also advised that Gwen Goodloe wanted to contact Negro singing stars Aretha Franklin and Roberta Flack to possibly assist in the event.”