RAEFORD, N.C. – Hundreds of mourners gathered Saturday in this rural community to memorialize George Floyd, whose death while in police custody spurred protests in cities nationwide.
A public viewing was held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. inside a Raeford church, just outside Fayetteville, North Carolina, where Floyd was born. The 46-year-old's body was placed in the center of the lobby. Mourners were allowed inside in groups of 10 and were asked to wear a mask, according to Hoke County Sheriff Hubert Peterkin.
As the memorial started inside the R.L. Douglas Cape Fear Center in Raeford, a crowd of peaceful protesters lined the road outside. A group of black men on horses rode into the parking lot, followed a few minutes later by a local motorcycle group. Flowers and signs lined the street, including one that read “George Floyd changed the world."
James Galberth, a 21-year-old Raeford resident, said he felt like everybody in the area should be on hand to support the Black Lives Matter movement.
"I'm here to support the cause," he said, while standing in line before the public viewing.
Not too far away, a man sang aloud the old spiritual "Wade in the Water" to those waiting to get in.
After the public viewing, Floyd’s family will gather at 3 p.m. for a private memorial service.
In a news release posted to the Hoke County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page, residents and businesses were told to expect an increase in heavy traffic, as well as travel delays in the area.
Friday night, hundreds marched down Main Street to protest the death and to vow that something like this will never happen again.
“This is important to do because this is something that is ongoing,” said LaToya Gordon of Hoke County Peacemakers, a newly formed group that organized the march. “Everybody felt that we wanted people to know that we can be peaceful and be heard.
Hoke County Sheriff Hubert Peterkin offered words of support for the group.
“This generation, this new group, is taking it to a whole new level,” Peterkin said. “We hear you. You’re going to get it done. We’re with you.″
On Thursday, Floyd was memorialized by family and friends at Minneapolis’ North Central University, an event that included a “national eulogy” by the Rev. Al Sharpton and a “national criminal justice system address” by Floyd family attorney Ben Crump.
Americans across the nation have stopped to commemorate the life and grieve the death of Floyd, 46, who died in the custody of white Minneapolis police officers. Floyd’s dying words, “I can’t breathe,” have given life to a searing moment in the nation’s fraught struggle for human rights.
Artists have painted murals of his image on city streets. Protesters across the world have yelled his name and demanded justice while facing off against police officers dressed in riot gear. Cities have come to a halt, enforcing curfews and closing down transit systems to discourage public gatherings and looting.
The demonstrations are unfolding at a time of extreme hardship for black Americans, who have disproportionately been hit by the coronavirus pandemic and its associated economic implosion, with tens of millions of Americans filing for unemployment so far.
Another public viewing will be held Monday in Houston, where Floyd was raised and lived most of his life. A 500-person service on Tuesday will take place at The Fountain of Praise church. Multiple celebrities and political figures are expected. A private burial will follow