Rev. Al Sharpton spoke about Aretha Franklin's civil rights record, and her life as "a black woman in a white man's world," while memorializing the soul singer in Detroit on Friday.
"We watched Aretha bear her cross down here," he said. "She had to sing with a broken heart. She had to work when she didn't get paid. She was a black woman in a white man's world. She bore her cross. She fought the good fight."
Sharpton lauded Franklin for her work raising money for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and civil rights causes, including his own National Action Network, and her tireless support of both marginalized groups and the black church.
"All of her life she supported the causes. She was a feminist before feminism was popular. She was a civil rights activist when it wasn't popular," he said. "She gave us pride, and she gave us a regal bar to reach... We don't all agree on everything. But we agree on Aretha."
The Baptist minister called her music "the soundtrack of the civil rights movement."
Sharpton also called out President Donald Trump for his comments after the iconic artist's death.
"When word had went out that Ms. Franklin passed, Trump said, 'She used to work for me.' No, she used to perform for you," Sharpton said. "She worked for us. Aretha never took orders from nobody but God."
Ending on an anecdote about the "exchange counter" in heaven, Sharpton said, "Now it's time to crown the queen. I'll see you at the exchange counter where you can now hand in your cross. Ain't no accounts over there, Aretha. Hand in your cross and pick up your crown."
Following his speech, Sharpton read aloud a letter from Barack and Michelle Obama, in which the two said that "Aretha's work reflected the very best of the American story."
"In the example she set both as an artist and a citizen, Aretha embodied those most revered virtues of forgiveness and reconciliation," they said in the letter. "Through her voice, her own voice, Aretha lifted those of millions, empowering and inspiring the vulnerable, the downtrodden, and everyone who may have just needed a little love."
Read Rev. Sharpton's full remarks below:
It is easy to celebrate the gifts that God gives. It is more difficult when someone uses those gifts in ways that enhances humanity. Aretha Franklin was given special gifts but she used it in a special way. And she would not want us to celebrate her without talking about, she stood for something. She never shamed us. She never disgraced us. She never made us make excuses for her. She represented the best in our community and she fought for our community until the end.
I first met miss Franklin when I was a teenager. I had become youth director of New York operation 'Bread Basket.' She would come to the strategy meetings with Reverend Jesse Jackson. I would hear the stories about how when Dr. Martin Luther king couldn't make payroll, Aretha Franklin went on an 11-city tour to raise money for Martin Luther king. A lot of artists hang up Dr. King's photo, but Aretha went and raised money and gave it, and worked free. Her daddy marched with Dr. King and she never stopped supporting. As the years went by, and I developed the National Action Network and she would call my radio show and have me come to her affairs. She called me one day, she said, "Reverend Al, I want to send you something." I said, "Yes, ma'am." She said, "What's your home address?" And she sent it. Three days later I got a check made out to the National Action Network, signed by Aretha Franklin. I saw her about a month later, I said, "You know, I was so blown away, I grew up looking up to you, that I framed that check." She said, "Boy, don't you have a copying machine?" She said, "You don't know how I am with my bank accounts, you better cash that check in."
But all of her life she supported the causes. She was a feminist before feminism was popular. She was a civil rights activist when it wasn't popular. She gave us pride and she gave us a regal bar to reach. And that's why we're all here. We don't all agree on everything. But we agree on Aretha. And she fought, she fought for everybody. I remember when we were used to -- Charles Williams and all of us jumping on the record industry. She said, "Y'all leave Clive Davis alone, he's one of the good ones." She loved Clive. She said, "We have to remember what happened to the Irish and what happened to Jews and what happened to blacks." And that is why we remember her legacy, because she sang a song for all of us.
She was the soundtrack of the civil rights movement. If you track where we are, you can follow where Aretha had us. That's why, when I look at her, and James Brown, whose daughter is here, and others, who paid a price, that opened the door, but [they] never forgot where they came from. She was rooted in the black church. She was made in the black church. And she took the black church downtown and made folks that didn't know what the holy ghost was shout in the middle of a concert. You never saw her perform without her doing gospel, because she never was one to forget where she came from. And that's why we give her this great home-going. We thank her for what she did with Dr. King. We thank her for what she had done with Reverend Jackson.
We thank her for what she's done with all of us. That is why, on Sunday on my show I misspelled "Respect" and a lot of y'all, a lot of y'all corrected me. Now I want y'all to help me correct President Trump, to teach him what it means.
And I say that because when word had went out that Ms. Franklin passed, Trump said, "She used to work for me." No, she used to perform for you. She worked for us.
Aretha never took orders from nobody but God. So, Aretha, as you get your rest - my mother passed about six years ago, President Clinton. My mother and I had a deal, she said, "I'll meet you on the other side, you live the way you're supposed to and I'll see you in heaven." I said, "Well, ma, they tell me there is no bodies in heaven, just spirits. How am I going to know you?" She said, "I'll tell you, you meet me at the exchange counter."
I said, "Exchange counter? What kind of exchange counter?" She said, "Well, right after you get through the Golden Gates, there's an exchange counter. That's where you hand in your cross to pick up your crown."
We watched Aretha bear her cross down here. She had to sing with a broken heart. She had to work when she didn't get paid. She was a black woman in a white man's world. She bore her cross. She fought the good fight. Now it's time to crown the queen. I'll see you at the exchange counter where you can now hand in your cross. Ain't no accounts over there, Aretha. Hand in your cross and pick up your crown."