In a service punctuated throughout by moments of ecstatic worship and praise, the family of George Floyd gathered in Raeford, N.C. to honor the life of a man who was killed by Minneapolis police nearly two weeks ago.
Floyd’s family arrived dressed in white for the private memorial service at Cape Fear Conference B Headquarters of the United American Free Will Baptist Denomination near Fayetteville, N.C., Floyd’s birthplace, on Saturday afternoon. Mourners were led in invocations, prayer and music. Floyd’s uncle, Isaac Floyd, sang. Ruby Floyd, another family member, told the crowd, “God is on our side.”
Several public officials also joined the family, including members of the state’s congressional delegation, Democrat G.K. Butterfield and Republican Richard Hudson. A spokesman for North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper presented the family with a flag that had flown at the state Capitol.
“In his living and in his dying, he has pleased God. He has woke all of us up,” the spokesman, Jeremy Collins, said.
Hoke County Sheriff Hubert Peterkin, who also spoke, had a message for fellow law enforcement officers, “It don’t mean nothing if you can’t say these six words: We are part of the problem.”
In a stirring eulogy, the Rev. Dr. Christopher D. Stackhouse referred to Floyd as a gentle giant who enjoyed mayonnaise and banana sandwiches. He invoked Floyd’s name several times throughout, telling the audience of the despair in seeing another black person die at the hands of the police.
“Although it took 8 minutes and 46 seconds for him to die, it took 401 years to put the system in place for nothing to happen,” said Stackhouse, mentioning the amount of time then-officer Derek Chauvin was seen kneeling on Floyd’s neck.
Stackhouse went to say that Floyd’s death was different, noting the worldwide support that’s followed.
“It was George Floyd — Perry Jr. what they called him — who sparked the fuse that’s going to change this nation,” Stackhouse said.
Ahead of Saturday’s private ceremony, thousands queued up to attend the open casket viewing. Both locals and supporters of protests ignited by Floyd’s killing came to pay their respects.
“I feel like that could have been me lying there and I’ve been in situations where it could have easily escalated,” said Henry Davis, who attended the viewing.
Saturday’s memorial follows a similar one this past week in Minneapolis. His funeral is planned for Tuesday in Houston, where Floyd spent most of his life.
WUNC’s Liz Schlemmer contributed to this report.