Christian Minister, Civil Rights Activist. He is remembered as the founder and influential minister for 33 years of New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan; a confident of Martin Luther King, Jr; and the father of Grammy Award-winning R&B singer, Aretha Franklin. With nearly 80 albums of his sermons and singing released on several different labels, he became known as a great orator, “the man with the golden voice.” Recently, his recordings were converted to CD's and as with the older LP's, the CD's were a commercial success selling thousands of copies. His sermons were broadcast on radio nationwide along with him doing tours state to state, often with his daughter, Aretha, singing during his services. His 1953 sermon “The Eagle Stirreth Her Nest” was inducted in the Library of Congress National Recording Registry. Born Clarence Le Vaughn Walker, he was the son of Rachel Pittman and Willie Walker, sharecroppers in rural Mississippi. When he was four years old, his father abandoned his family. When his mother married Henry Franklin, his surname was changed to Franklin. Ordained at the age of sixteen, he began his profession of preaching in Mississippi. His first marriage to Arlene Gaines was very brief. On June 3, 1936 he married for the second time to Barbara Siggers, a young gifted pianist and gospel singer; the couple became parents of three daughters, a son and he adopted her older son. After the couple separated in 1948, she returned to New York to live near her mother and she died at the age of 33, three weeks before Aretha's 10th birthday. The children spent summer vacations in New York with their mother and grandmother. Described as a tall, handsome man dressed in silk suits, he remained a widower the rest of his life. Before coming to Detroit in 1946, his first church was Salem Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee followed by Friendship Baptist Church in Buffalo, New York. While in Memphis, he furthered his education at LeMony College. He was a charismatic minister impacting not only his church but the entire city of Detroit by starting a food ministry, offering financial and legal help to the homeless and conducted a prison ministry. In 1961 the original church building, which had been a bowling alley, was demolished with the property being used for the new Detroit Medical Center. A 2,000-seat movie theater was converted to make New Bethel's church building. As a minister of a mega church, he was financially very successful. During the 1960s he became more political active urging his congregation and other African Americans in Detroit to vote in elections. Becoming active in the civil rights movement, he co-organized the 1963 “Walk Toward Freedom March” with his personal friend, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and claimed this as one of his greatest achievements. He was also actively involved in the Urban League, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People or NAACP, on the Executive Board of the Southern Christian Leader Conference, and chairman of the Detroit Council of Human Rights. Franklin assisted in ending race discrimination against African American members of the United Automobile Workers Union. On June 10, 1979, Rev. Franklin received two gunshot wounds during an armed home invasion causing him become semi-comatose for the remaining five years of his life. During the incident, Franklin was armed with a gun, shooting twice but not hitting anyone. At his death, the crime became a homicide. According to Jet Magazine, four men and two women were eventually arrested, found guilty and sentenced for various participation of this crime. His four-hour funeral was held at his church with an estimated 10,000 inside and standing outside the church. Rev. Jasper Williams, Jr. delivered the eulogy. Among those attending besides his family and the congregation were colleagues from the Christian community nation-wide, politicians, entertainers, and journalists. New Bethel Baptist Church was located on Linwood Boulevard, but this was changed to C.L. Franklin Boulevard in honor of him as was a park near his residence.
Bio by: Curtis Jackson
Rachell Pittman Franklin
Barbara Vernice Siggers Franklin
1918–1952 (m. 1936)