Jesse Jackson: Aretha Franklin 'at home at the church'

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News
The Rev. Jesse Jackson says hello to Don Kelley, left, of Chicago, while greeting people who had attended the viewing of Aretha Franklin at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit.

Detroit — Parts of Linwood Street are closed Thursday as hundreds flock to New Bethel Baptist Church to attend Aretha Franklin's visitation on the city’s north side.

In the third day of her four-day sendoff, the Queen of Soul lies in repose Thursday at the church, located at 8430 Linwood in Detroit.

After a wardrobe change from Wednesday, Franklin was dressed in a full-length sparkly light pink dress with matching lipstick, pink flower earrings and beige Christian Louboutin heels. The inner lining of her casket had gold banners and satin.

Church helpers alighted on the chapel, handing out tissues. 

Rev. Jesse Jackson, a longtime friend of Franklin's visiting from Chicago, exited from the church and said he was saddened to speak Thursday.

“She was at home at the church,” Jackson said. “She never left these streets and never left this church. It was that power from us suffering... she knew suffering, she knew sacrifice, pain and social justice.”

Cars filled the street and lines stretched down Linwood to Hazelwood. 

As Kirah Ujamaa walked with her mother, they shook their heads after seeing the long line, but said they would wait however long it took to see her. 

“I went to see her twice on the first day and just had to bring my mother to New Bethel,” said Ujamaa, 25. “We're from Detroit, and all of her songs played such an impact on generations.” 

On three occasions violinist Valerie Way, from Detroit, said she played for Franklin over 10 years.

“The first time I played for her was here at the Bethel and again at the Fox Theatre and last time I played was at the Joe Louis Arena that was about maybe was seven years ago,” said Way, 60. “It was fabulous because you knew you were performing to the expectations of the queen.”

The casket bearing Aretha Franklin is carried into New Bethel Baptist Church Thursday.

Judy Burris, from Clinton Township, waited more than an hour in line, but said she had to come after meeting Franklin in September 1986.

A line forms outside New Bethel Baptist Church for Thursday's viewing.

“She held a fundraiser for Jesse Jackson at a large home on Woodward. My friend asked me to cater with him for Aretha and I thought he was joking, but I’ll never forget it she was wonderful,” said Burris, 63. “I met her in life and I’ll see her in death."

Meanwhile, Greater Grace Temple was bustling Thursday, as floral tributes arrived for Franklin from Barbra Streisand, Duke Fakir and the Four Tops, Sam Moore, the heirs of Mahalia Jackson, the estate of James Brown and the mayor of Flint (thanking Aretha for her donations to that beleaguered city) as gospel singers, musicians and choirs rehearsed.

Jackson stepped down from the stage and accepted condolences, saying softly, “I knew her for 60 years.”

Willie Wilkerson, Aretha’s longtime beau and good friend, said “Let me tell you, I wasn’t just with her for 35 years, I was with her—all the time, every day. Nobody else can say that.” In all that time, she never got mad at him, "Not once," he smiled. 

He admired photos of himself with the Queen of Soul that photographer Linda Solomon showed him. “Isn’t she beautiful?” he said.

On Friday, Franklin’s funeral will begin at 10 a.m. at Greater Grace Temple, 23500 West Seven Mile Road in Detroit. 

The funeral is invitation-only, but the world will be able to tune into live broadcasts on television and livestreamed.

How to navigate for Franklin concert, funeral

How to watch Aretha Franklin's funeral

Freelance writer Susan Whitall contributed.