“This is a moment of connectivity,” said Pastor Mia Wright to the crowd assembled to honor the life of Houston’s own George Floyd, a mission statement for the emotional afternoon that lay ahead. “In the tradition of the African American church, this will be a home-going ceremony ... We are celebrating his life.”
In a lively Tuesday funeral service that spanned over three hours, hundreds of well-wishers packed the pews of The Fountain of Praise in southwest Houston to honor the life of Third Ward native Floyd, just over two weeks after his killing in Minneapolis. After the service, Floyd was laid to rest at the Houston Memorial Gardens Cemetery in Pearland, where he was buried next to his mother, Larcenia "Sissy" Floyd.
Floyd’s funeral was equal parts joyous and somber, both a celebration of the Jack Yates High School graduate’s life and a stirring call to action to rise up against the widespread racism pervasive in America today, the deaths of black men at the hands of law enforcement and hateful vigilantism.
In the wake of Floyd’s death under the knee of Derek Chauvin, a wave of protests against systemic racism and police brutality has swept the globe, fanning the flames of the Black Lives Matter movement into an unignorable force for racial justice. Both Chauvin and the three other police officers who watched for eight minutes and 46 seconds as Chauvin held his knee down against Floyd’s neck until he lost consciousness were fired from the Minneapolis Police Department. Chauvin was later charged with second-degree murder, and his fellow officers on the scene have been charged as accessories to the killing.
Held on a particularly sweltering day where parts of the city neared a heat index of 111 degrees Fahrenheit, and on the heels of the news that Texas had seen its highest COVID-19 hospitalization increase since the pandemic arrived in early March, Floyd’s memorial service was full of rousing gospel standards, tearful recollections from members of Floyd’s family, and promises from elected officials that Floyd’s death would not be in vain.
Tuesday’s memorial service was the last of several that have taken place over the past two weeks, from the site of his death in Minneapolis to Raeford, North Carolina, just outside of Fayetteville, NC, where Floyd was born, and then the final trip to Houston. Tuesday's service was a private affair—the public plan was for there to be only 500 attendees, representing 25 percent of The Fountain of Praise’s 2,000 person capacity in an attempt to enforce social distancing, but live coverage of the event showed pews packed to the brim and a crowd that appeared significantly larger than a few hundred people. Guests wore masks inside the church and had their temperatures taken upon entering the facility.
On Monday, members of the public were invited to view Floyd’s open casket at The Fountain of Praise between noon and 6 p.m. Over the course of the day, more than 6,000 people visited the church to pay their respects, some of whom stood in line for hours in order to do so. Many prominent public figures attended the private service, including celebrities Jamie Foxx and Channing Tatum, Houston Texans owner Cal McNair and Texans players J.J. Watt and D.J. Reader, as well as R&B singer and songwriter Ne-Yo, who performed during the ceremony.
Local politicians and public officials such as HPD Chief Art Acevedo, former Mayor Annise Parker, and Mayor Sylvester Turner were also in attendance. Turner spoke during the service and used his remarks to announce that he would soon issue an executive order banning the use of choke holds and strangleholds by Houston police officers.
U.S. Representatives Al Green and Sheila Jackson Lee also addressed the crowd, as did several clergy members, including pastors Remus and Mia Wright of The Fountain of Praise and Pastor Emeritus of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church and civil rights activist the Rev. William “Bill” Lawson. Also in the crowd were relatives of Ahmaud Arbery, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Botham Jean, Michael Brown, and Pamela Turner, all other black Americans who died at the hands of police or civilian vigilantes in the past several years.
Former Vice President and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, who met privately with Floyd’s family Monday afternoon, recorded a message to the Floyd family that played during the service. “No child,” said the Vice President in his video message, “should have to ask questions that too many black children have had to ask for generations: ‘Why? Why is daddy gone?'”
Several members of Floyd’s family took turns sharing stories about their beloved “Big Floyd,” including Floyd’s niece Brooke Williams, who channeled her grief into a righteous demand for justice.
“That officer showed no remorse as my uncle’s soul left his body,” said Williams, who later put forth a rallying cry to the nation. “America, it is time for a change...no justice, no peace.”
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A eulogy from the Rev. Al Sharpton capped off the afternoon’s ceremony. “This was not just a tragedy, it was a crime,” Sharpton said at the top of his remarks, setting the stage for a stirring speech that channeled the anguish of the Floyd family and black Americans across the nation, which he used to call out the “wickedness in high places” that made the unjust killings of black Americans like Floyd possible.
“Your family is going to miss you, George,” Sharpton said, “but your nation will always remember your name.”
“We’re gonna fight on,” he concluded.