Annual Report FY 2004 - Research at Cornell

18. Nick Salvatore, Industrial and Labor Relations/American Studies

Singing in a Strange Land: C. L. Franklin, the Black Church, and the Transformation of America (Little, Brown, and Company, 2005). Many Americans today vaguely remember Reverend C. L. Franklin (1915–1984) as the father of Aretha Franklin, the “Queen of Soul.” Yet to meet Franklin through this biography reveals not merely a fascinating person whose career illuminates so many aspects of the black American experience: to know Franklin is to grasp more fully central issues in modern American life. Salvatore studied more than 70 sermons given by Franklin, the pastor of Detroit’s New Bethel Baptist Church, 1946–1979, and a leading proponent of the civil rights movement. One of Franklin’s most popular sermons—“Without a Song,” based on Psalm 137—inspired the book’s title. Franklin challenged the scripture in which the Israelites in Babylonian captivity are asked to sing for their captors, to which the Israelites respond, “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” Franklin countered with the message: the Israelites should have sung; some things you can’t say, but you can sing. Salvatore considered this the key to much of Franklin’s life and its legacy. In general, Franklin’s sermons provided “social and political analyses that consciously urged others to discover their voices and to engage in the world about them,” says Salvatore.

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