“We need to turn our race around. I want Aretha’s life to be immortalized, not left at the graveyard” - Rev. Jasper Williams
The international controversy created by Aretha Franklin’s blistering eulogy continues unabated. The embattled, “OG” Baptist preacher Rev. Jasper Williams Jr., who was handpicked by The Queen of Soul to deliver her last word, has been vehemently savaged by a chorus of social media critics for what his supporters argue was a “courageously correct” assessment that Black America has lost its soul.
Now, according to the Associated Press, Aretha Franklin’s family have weighed in, saying they found Rev. Williams’ “political” eulogy “very offensive and distasteful”, according to Aretha’s nephew Vaughn Franklin.
When he learned of their caustic comments, Williams restrainedly replied to this reporter: “That’s their opinion. I certainly respect their opinion, and I understand it. I just regret they feel that way.”
Since August 31, Rev. Williams, has either been vilified or widely applauded for his challenge to, if not condemnation of, African Americans. Despite being immersed in this firestorm of controversy, the 75- year old “pulpit prophet” has remained resolute, if not bold and shameless and undaunted.
“You know I don’t care nothing about that,” Williams told me exclusively about social media uproar about his eulogy. “I said we have lost our soul as a race and by that, I mean we have turned our backs on God; that we don’t care what we do or how we live, and I think all of that is pertinent to the success of failure of us as a race.
“I don’t know if they would look upon [the eulogy] as being correct or not, but Aretha was an activist for civil rights in her own way and she always wanted to see our people aggrandize themselves. She posted bail for Angela Davis and it was very, very controversial but she wanted to see the race progress. And, because I’m the eulogist, I’m the one who determines what I want to say at the funeral.”
Rev. Jasper Williams Jr., pastor emeritus of Atlanta’s Salem Bible Church for the past 52 years, is such a renowned and respected Baptist preacher, that his peers and parishioners reverently refer to him simply and succinctly as “Jasper”! He is truly and uniquely one of a kind – so much so that Williams is said to be the “nation’s quintessential African American pulpit preacher.”
“Rev. Jasper Williams is not only one of the most prophetic voices of our time, but one who effectively articulated what the life of Aretha Franklin has meant and will mean to the world,” says Dr. Gerald Durley, pastor emeritus of Atlanta’s Providence Baptist church, and former president of The Concerned Black Clergy.
Rev. Williams was personally requested by Aretha Franklin to eulogize her, he says. “She asked me to do that, so here we are,” Williams told reporters. “I was the eulogist. I feel I did it appropriately. I think I honored Aretha through it and I feel in honoring her, I picked out various conditions going on in our community. I tried to do the best that I could. I meant nobody no harm and yet I meant the truth.”
Vaughn Franklin disputes that; telling the Associated Press the family selected Williams because he had previously eulogized Franklin’s father, minister and civil rights activist C.L. Franklin, 34 years ago. Despite that argument, Williams’ “provocative preaching and teaching” says civil rights activist Tyrone Brooks, proved to be so captivating and contentious and compelling, the nation is still buzzing about it.
When asked how he was handling the discord his eulogy has caused, he told a gaggle of journalists following his Sunday service.
“We ought to respect each other enough to listen,” he opined. “I don’t care what another person’s opinion is. My opinion alone is not all gold. I am willing to listen to those kids. They’ve got somethings about themselves we all ought to pattern after, so if I am going to stand up here, I’m not standing up here to be the Lone Ranger, like I know everything, like I have been everywhere and done everything, because I have not. It is going to take all of us to turn Black America around, even those who don’t want to help,” he said.
“Jasper” has been preaching since age 7 and was once known as “The Young Son of Thunder” and has contested controversy during various times in his stellar career. And, once again, he finds himself in the national spotlight – unbowed.
Rev. Williams contends his eulogy was designed to challenge, chide and confront African Americans, and laments his message has since been misconstrued.
“We can’t expect people outside of our race to do things for us. We have to take some initiative on our own,” Williams tells this reporter. “Our problems start at home. In other words, there is no real, real parenting and for that reason our children run wild; we have killings in our streets from the children that have not been properly parented in the home. And, if somebody says something negative about that, they’re part of the problem.
“I know I’m correct,” Williams adds authoritatively. “From a biblical, spiritual perspective, I don’t have to wonder if I’m correct.”
Comfortably back at home in his Salem Bible Church pulpit in NW Atlanta, Williams received a standing ovation from a near capacity audience of parishioners and well-wishers. They know their religious leader has been studying and working on this contentious issue for several years. His tribute to Aretha was deliberately and dutifully intended for Black America. It was no mistake.
“Much of what I am about and tried to articulate in that word on that day has been turned around, but I know you know what I’m trying to do,” he preached. “I don’t want to see Aretha Franklin’s life left at the funeral or the graveyard. I want to see Aretha Franklin’s life immortalized; to live on forever because she touched so many ethnic groups across this world. So, the mission that we have in terms of bringing pastors in from across the nation and putting together our parenting curriculum; getting it in the homes. We need to turn our race around. And, our race cannot be turned around with our hands out begging white folks. Our race can only be turned around if we come from within ourselves, and make it happen.”
Williams also explained to his congregation and, perhaps, his criticizers that “Black Lives should not matter, Black Lives ought not matter, Black Lives must not matter unless Black people start ‘RESPECT’. I didn’t just go to Aretha’s funeral to say what I said, I’ve been doing this for a long time.
“I’m going to be all right because the one thing I’m not is scared,” he asserted confidently.
There have been dozens of Williams supporters who steadfastly supported the crisp cleric’s comments. Rev. Gerald Durley is among them.
“He has spoken truth to power,” Durley told the Salem congregation. “All of these Black churches ought to be standing with what Jasper Williams has said in his prophetic message. We se the murders, we see the killings, most of us are afraid to go the gas stations in our neighborhood.”
“I’m saddened by the ire, and this intergenerational disconnect where you have these young preachers and educated critical thinkers and how they have no RESPECT, says Bishop Darryl Winston. “I think way Jasper approached it as a senior statesman, I don’t think his intent was to be malicious yet that’s how it has been construed. The irony is his call for unity fell on deaf ears, or did it?”
Newsmakers Live executive producer and co-founder, Jim Welcome says Rev. Williams “went out on a limb” and effectively used Aretha’s eulogy to send a message to Black America.
“Jasper has done what no other preacher has done in recent times when they had the attention of the media and had a significant portion of the African American community watching,” Welcome says. “It was an eye-opener, an awakening of our condition. He basically said, our race is in disarray and these are some of the key things we need to do to fix it.”
Rev. Williams was asked by reporters if he was distressed or disturbed by the harsh language his critics have pelted him with in the media.
“I understand the pain. I understand the hurt,” he said. I understand a community where we don’t have any economic growth anymore. We own no drug stores, no grocery stores, no banks. We don’t have anything in our community but devastation, so I understand the pain. I understand the hurt. All I am asking is, I will listen to you and whatever you say to me is fine, but I am not going to respond to you sweet people negatively. All I ask is for you to come on board. I’ll help you, you help us and together we turn our race around,” he answered.