George Perry Floyd Jr. was laid to rest Tuesday next to his mother in Houston, capping two weeks of social upheaval with an emotionally charged funeral service that was equal parts gospel revival, civil rights summit and Democratic political rally.
The four-hour “homecoming celebration,” as Fountain of Praise Pastor Mia Wright called it, drew more than 500 mourners, including politicians, celebrities and sports figures, as well as a video message from former Vice President Joseph R. Biden and eulogies by members of Congress and the Rev. Al Sharpton.
Carried live on every major broadcast and cable network, the splashy funeral came in stark contrast to Mr. Floyd’s hardscrabble upbringing in Houston’s Third Ward, a point made repeatedly by speakers who stressed that a man of humble beginnings who died with a police officer’s knee on his neck could change the world.
“They rejected him for jobs, they rejected him for positions, they rejected him to play on certain teams,” Mr. Sharpton said. “God took the rejected stone and made him the cornerstone of a movement that’s going to change the whole wide world.”
The Houston burial came after memorial services in Fayetteville, North Carolina, where Mr. Floyd was born in 1973, and Minneapolis, where he moved several years ago and died at age 46 during a May 25 arrest as a police officer knelt on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds.
His death, captured on video, sparked the biggest social-justice uprising since the civil rights era, spurring massive peaceful protests and marches as well as looting, vandalism and wanton destruction that overwhelmed major U.S. cities and left at least a dozen dead.
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The outraged response to Mr. Floyd’s death even overcame the novel coronavirus pandemic as tens of thousands ignored social-distancing orders to take to the streets.
“Even in a pandemic, people are walking out in the streets, not even following social distancing because you touched the world,” Mr. Sharpton said. “And as we lay you to rest today, the movement won’t rest until we get justice, until we have one standard of justice. Your family is going to miss you, George, but your nation is going to always remember your name.”
Mr. Biden delivered a five-minute video message after meeting privately Monday with Floyd family members, while President Barack Obama spoke earlier with relatives by phone. Neither one attended the funeral in person out of concerns about the Secret Service disruption.
“Unlike most, you must grieve in public. It’s a burden,” said Mr. Biden. “A burden that is now your purpose to change the world for the better, in the name of George Floyd.”
Democratic Reps. Al Green and Sheila Jackson Lee, who both represent the Houston area, emphasized that Mr. Floyd would not die in vain. Democrats unveiled Monday a law-enforcement reform package aimed at deterring excessive force and holding officers more accountable for abuse.
“I’m not here today as a Democrat. We’re not here as Republicans. We’re not here because we’re rich or poor, we’re not here because we’re conservative or liberal,” Mr. Green said. “We are here because Pastor Remus Wright was so right when he said we have no expendables in our community. George Floyd was not expendable. This is why we’re here.”
Mr. Sharpton took a few shots at President Trump, mocking his appearance last week in front of a damaged St. John’s Episcopal Church near the White House and blaming him for National Guard troops and police who used non-lethal force to disperse enormous protest crowds in multiple cities.
“You take rubber bullets and tear gas to clear out peaceful protesters and then take a Bible and walk in front of a church and use a church as a prop,” Mr. Sharpton said. “Wickedness in high places.”
Among the celebrities who attended were actor Jamie Foxx, Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt and boxer Floyd Mayweather, who helped cover the funeral and memorial expenses. The service also featured parents and relatives of other black Americans who died tragically, including Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin and Ahmed Aubery.
Mr. Floyd grew up in the Cuney Homes, a low-rise public housing project known as the “Bricks,” in a big, loving family led by his mother, Larcenia “Cissy” Floyd. Standing somewhere between 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-7, “Big Floyd” starred in basketball and football at Yates High School.
His gold coffin was transported to a cemetery in Pearland where his mother was buried after she died about two years ago. In his final moments, he called out “I can’t breathe” and “Mama.”
“We honor him, Rev. Sharpton, not because he was perfect, but we honor him today because when he took his last breath, the rest of us will now be able to breathe,” said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.