Houston says goodbye to George Floyd amid hopes of change
Floyd, who was killed by police on May 25, was laid to rest on Tuesday
In the opening moments of Tuesday’s homegoing service for George Floyd, gospel singer Dray Tate delivered a stirring version of the classic song “A Change is Gonna Come” — a song about a black man’s oppression in America — in front of the mourners who packed The Fountain of Praise church in Houston.
“It’s been too hard living, but I’m afraid to die
‘Cause I don’t know what’s up there, beyond the sky
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh, yes it will”
It was a fitting tribute. Two weeks ago, Floyd, who was 46, screamed for his mother before dying under the full weight of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who kneeled on the neck of the Houston native for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.
Floyd’s final words were, “I can’t breathe.”
On Tuesday, his hometown of Houston came to say goodbye.
Many of the mourners walked into the service wearing white. A few wore T-shirts with the image of Floyd wearing a mask with the inscription “I Can’t Breathe.” And hundreds who couldn’t get into the church stood outside in temperatures approaching triple digits to bid farewell to one of their own, whose death will become an indelible image for generations to come.
The funeral was paid for by boxer Floyd Mayweather, and sitting in the pews during the service were dignitaries, including members of Congress, former NBA star Stephen Jackson, Houston Texans star J.J. Watt and actors Jamie Foxx and Channing Tatum.
Also in attendance to mourn alongside Floyd’s family were Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, who was slain in 2012, and Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, who died after a police officer put him in a chokehold in 2014.
U.S. Reps. Al Green and Sheila Jackson Lee, and presidential candidate Joe Biden, were among the speakers to offer remarks. The former vice president, who met privately with the family in Houston on Monday, spoke via video and included a message to Floyd’s 6-year-old daughter, Gianna, who said while sitting on Jackson’s shoulders last week, “Daddy changed the world.”
“When there is justice for George Floyd, we will truly be on our way to racial justice,” Biden said. “Then, Gianna, your daddy will have changed the world.”
The world has been impacted. Besides protests in all 50 states, there have been protests speaking out against police brutality held around the world, including in Australia, France, Japan, South Korea, Kenya, South Africa and Lebanon.
Rev. William “Bill” Lawson, pastor emeritus at Houston’s Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church, compared the reaction to Floyd’s death with that of 14-year-old Emmett Till, who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955.
“Is this going to be like so many movements, and back to business as usual?” Lawson said during the service. “We can make sure we don’t stop the fight, that we stay with it.”
Floyd’s family appeared together at the podium Tuesday, fighting back tears as they addressed the support.
“I’d like to thank the whole world for what it has done for my family,” said Kathleen McGee, Floyd’s aunt. “I’ve gained such a huge family all over the world.”
Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, cried openly as he remembered his brother. “I’m going to miss my brother a lot,” he said. “I want to thank you for giving me my own personal superman.”
Ne-Yo, the Grammy Award-winning singer, also got emotional as he sang, “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday,” pausing to compose himself during the song.
Tuesday’s service, which was nationally televised by the four major networks, was the fourth held in the last week for Floyd. The first service was on June 4 in Minneapolis, the city where he had relocated and eventually died. His body was then transported to Raeford, North Carolina, where a weekend service was held in the town where Floyd was born. On Monday in Houston, thousands of people flowed through The Fountain of Praise church for a public viewing.
Activist Rev. Al Sharpton, who has traveled with Floyd’s family to Minneapolis and Houston in the past week, delivered the eulogy on Tuesday. Sharpton also recognized the families of Martin, Garner, Michael Brown, Botham Jean, Pamela Turner and Ahmaud Arbery.
“All of these families came to stand with [the Floyd] family,” Sharpton said. “ ‘Cause they know better than anyone else the pain they will suffer.
“God took an ordinary brother from the Third Ward, from the housing projects,” Sharpton said, “and made him the cornerstone of a movement that’s going to change the whole wide world.”
In the two weeks since Floyd’s death, there are clear signs of change. The four officers linked to Floyd’s death are in jail. And officers across the country have been criminally charged for their actions that have occurred since Floyd’s arrest — the result of videotaped evidence that includes police-involved incidents in Fairfax County, Virginia; Philadelphia; and Buffalo, New York.
“This is a watershed moment,” said Houston police chief Art Acevedo, addressing reporters as he entered the church on Tuesday. “The problem with American police is we have 18,000 police departments with 18,000 ways of doing business. We have to have national standards.”
After the service on Tuesday, Floyd’s body was taken from the church to its final resting place at Houston Memorial Gardens, where his mother is buried. The last part of the journey to the cemetery was made on a horse-drawn carriage.
“I want the United States of America to respect George Floyd,” Green told the mourners on Tuesday. “He is not expendable.”
As the farewell to Floyd came to an end in Houston, the closing stanza of “A Change Is Gonna Come” was also a reminder that his name will continue to live on:
“There have been times that I thought I couldn’t last for long
But now I think I’m able to carry on
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come, oh, yes it will.”