HOUSTON (CN) — Strains of “Amazing Grace” and Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” broke out among the mourners filing into a Houston church Monday to view George Floyd’s body.
An estimated 10,000 people came out on the blistering hot afternoon to pay their respects to Floyd at the Fountain of Praise church in Houston, his hometown.
Laid in an open casket, Floyd was dressed in a light brown suit and tie.
All visitors had to wear masks. Volunteers quickly ushered them through the church, telling them no pictures were allowed inside and pointing out circles on the floor laid out to ensure they stayed six feet apart from each other.
“I’m at a loss for words. I’m not going to lie. It’s almost like I can’t breathe you know. Just to actually see it in reality. It’s kind of overwhelming,” said Dave Washington of New Orleans after seeing Floyd’s corpse.
He brought his flugelhorn and played some songs outside the church that he had learned playing for a choir growing up. He said he also played at his mom’s and dad’s funerals. “That’s my release,” he said.
“It’s a lot to take it in,” he added. “I know he is not my immediate family but in the end that’s still my family in there. That’s still my brother in there man. It hurts the same,” said Washington, before walking away staring at the ground.
The open casket called to mind Emmett Till’s funeral 65 years ago in Chicago.
Though his late mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, said his face was so mutilated she did not recognize him after two white men in Mississippi tortured and shot him in August 1955, then dumped his body in the Tallahatchie River, she decided to let the public see the barbarity of his lynching.
Roy Bryant and his half-brother J.W. Milam confessed to murdering the 14-year-old Till four months after an all-white jury found them not guilty of the crime. They never spent a day in jail for it.
They said they killed Till because he supposedly whistled at Bryant’s then-21-year-old wife Carolyn Bryant outside the Bryant family’s grocery store in Money, Mississippi.
The FBI in 2017 opened an investigation into Till’s murder after the publication of the book “The Blood of Emmett Till,” in which Carolyn Bryant is quoted telling the author Timothy Tyson she lied on the witness stand when she said that Till had grabbed her around the waist and propositioned her.
Till’s cousin Deborah Watts said Floyd’s death has stirred up a lot of pain for her.
She lives in Minneapolis where former policeman Derek Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck for several minutes on Memorial Day and two other officers laid down on his back, unmoved as Floyd cried out for his mother and said “I cannot breathe.” The killing was witnessed by millions of people after a passerby filmed the arrest and posted it on social media.
“When I saw it, I couldn’t help being overcome by grief and anger and shock that it would happen right in front of our eyes like that,” Watts said Monday in a phone interview.
“And to witness the inhumane and brutal way that he was murdered after he told the officer’s he couldn’t breathe. And they just totally just ignored his pleas and his cries. And it draws me back to Emmett … There was probably a similar cry for help, a cry for his mother as well.”
Though the FBI has yet to finish its investigation, Watts said she is hoping a district attorney in Mississippi will present Till’s case to a grand jury and that Bryant will be charged for murder.