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Fri, 01.22.1915

C. L. Franklin, Minister born

C. L. Franklin

*C. L. Franklin was born on this date in 1915. He was a Black Baptist minister and civil rights, activist.

He was born Clarence LaVaughn Walker in Bolivar County, Mississippi, to sharecroppers Willie and Rachel (née Pittman) Walker. C.L. Franklin would recall that the only thing his father did for him was to teach him to salute when he returned from service in World War I in 1919. Willie Walker abandoned the family when Clarence was four years old. The next year Rachel married Henry Franklin, whose surname the family adopted. At age 16, he became a preacher, initially working the black itinerant preaching circuit, before settling at New Salem Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee.

Personal life:

On October 16, 1934, Franklin married his first wife, Alene Gaines, and though that marriage had ended by early 1936, the form of dissolution is unconfirmed. On June 3, 1936, Franklin married Barbara Siggers, with whom he had four children: Erma, Cecil, Aretha, and Carolyn. As noted by his biographer, Nick Salvatore, C.L. fathered a daughter, Carl Ellan Kelley, by Mildred Jennings, a 12-year-old member of his congregation, on November 17, 1940. Carl Ellan was born during his tenure at New Salem Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, and was the last of his children to survive him. Barbara had a son by a previous relationship, Vaughn, whom C. L. adopted shortly after the marriage. Vaughn did not learn that C. L. Franklin was not his father until 1951. When C.L. and Barbara separated (for the last time), Barbara moved with Vaughn to Buffalo, New York, leaving Franklin with the couple's four other children. The couple never divorced. Barbara made periodic trips to Detroit to visit her children and they traveled to New York to visit her during summer vacations. Barbara died of a heart attack in 1952 at the age of 34.

Franklin left Memphis in May 1944. From there he moved to the pulpit of the Friendship Baptist Church in Buffalo, New York, where he served until June 1946 when he became pastor of the New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan. Throughout the late 1940s and 1950s, his fame grew. He preached throughout the country while maintaining his pulpit at New Bethel. Known as the man with the "Million Dollar Voice", Franklin had many of his sermons recorded into the 1970s and broadcast sermons via radio on Sundays. He commanded up to $4000 per appearance for his public appearances, high fees for the time. Among his most famous sermons were "The Eagle Stirreth Her Nest" and "Dry Bones in the Valley".

Franklin was also known for his singing voice, and a style of preaching that segued organically into song; he also encouraged his daughter Aretha Franklin in her musical endeavors. During the 1950s he took her with him on speaking tours and musical engagements and formed a cappella group with Anthony Alexander Chamblee, his first cousin. In the 1950s and 1960s, he became involved in the 20th century American Civil Rights movement and worked to end discriminatory practices against black United Auto Workers members in Detroit. Franklin was a friend and supporter of Martin Luther King Jr. He helped to lead Dr. King's freedom march down Woodward Avenue in Detroit in June 1963.

Assault, death, and legacy:

Shortly after midnight on Sunday, June 10, 1979, Franklin was shot twice at point-blank range during what was believed to have been an attempted robbery at his home on Detroit's West Side. He was taken to Henry Ford Hospital on nearby West Grand Boulevard. He remained in a coma for the next five years. The Franklin children moved him back to his house six months after the shooting; he received 24-hour nursing care and remained at home until the middle of 1984. He died on July 27, 1984, aged 69, in Detroit's New Light Nursing Home. Franklin was entombed at Detroit's Woodlawn Cemetery on North Woodward Avenue. Franklin's friend, the Rev. Jasper Williams Jr., of the Salem Bible Church of Atlanta, Georgia, gave the eulogy. Rev. Williams also eulogized Rev. Franklin's daughter, Aretha, in 2018.

C. L. Franklin was among hundreds of artists whose material was reportedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire. In 2011, his sermon "The Eagle Stirreth Her Nest" was added to the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. Selected sermons are published in a volume edited by the University of Illinois Press.

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